Horde Hoard stuffing this Thanksgiving. The Senate version of the Affordable Healthcare for Americans Act has passed out of committee by a vote of 60-39. After the Turkey Day vacation, the Senate will reconvene for floor debate.
Legislative experts, please correct: Should this bill pass the Senate, that version will then be reconciled with the recently passed House version, and the reconciled version will then be signed by the president.
Enjoy your Sunday morning.
(Thanks to Brian Sorgatz for pointing out my moronic spelling error.)
Staffers in the Los Angeles and Washington offices of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit publisher of Reason magazine, Reason.com, and Reason.tv say thanks to the more-than-600 donors who pledged over $55,000 in the fight for "Free Minds and Free Markets"
The Politico digs up enough stories of internecine fighting amongst the loose bunch of organizations supposedly responsible for, or furthering in specific locations, the Tea Party movement to generate a semi-convincing trend story that argues the movement may be "losing momentum."
While the sort of petty conflict the story highlights between your Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express and Tea Party Nation, (your People's Judean Front and People's Front of Judea...), are worth noting (and unavoidable in politics), I'd say that an idea (which I think is a more accurate description of the whole orbit of actions and groups lumped in as the "tea party movement") that can still gather 4,000 people to a Texas rally, as the story notes, isn't worth writing off yet.
More important than which particular organization involved in the movement grows or triumphs is what this newly energized mass movement pissed off at D.C. will end up standing for. Alas, that a planned February National Tea Party convention will have bailout-supporting warmonger Sarah Palin as a star is an alarming sign that what had promise as a mass anti-state movement will descend into personality cult anti-Democratic party populism.
Matt Welch's excellent first person account on the varied and interesting promise of the Tea Party movement as shown at its huge September rally in D.C.
On Tuesday I noted that the Drug Enforcement Administration, apparently in response to an emailing campaign organized by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), had removed from one of its webpages the claim that "the American Medical Association recommends that marijuana remain a Schedule I controlled substance." That statement is no longer correct, since the AMA last week approved a resolution saying marijuana's Schedule I status, which makes it unavailable for medical use under federal law, should be re-examined. But LEAP points out that another DEA webpage still says the AMA "has urged that marijuana remain a prohibited, Schedule I drug." Go here to bug the DEA about continuing to misinform the public on this subject.
New Moon, the latest installment in the wildly successful Twilight series, opens in movie theaters today. And as Noah Berlatsy writes, it's about much more than just vampires and werewolves.View this article
Some musings on the glorious future of lab-grown meat, from the glorious future-oriented mag, H+:
In-Vitro Meat will be fashioned from any creature, not just domestics that were affordable to farm. Yes, ANY ANIMAL, even rare beasts like snow leopard, or Komodo Dragon. We will want to taste them all. Some researchers believe we will also be able to create IVM using the DNA of extinct beasts—obviously, "DinoBurgers" will be served at every six-year-old boy's birthday party.
Humans are animals, so every hipster will try Cannibalism. Perhaps we'll just eat people we don't like, as author Iain M. Banks predicted in his short story, "The State of the Art" with diners feasting on "Stewed Idi Amin." But I imagine passionate lovers literally eating each other, growing sausages from their co-mingled tissues overnight in tabletop appliances similar to bread-making machines.
The rest of the piece is great, liming the economic turmoil to come in meat-based economies like Argentina and New Zealand, the ultra-urbanization of a non-agricultural America, the insertion of good fish fat in fat steaks, and the acceleration of the expanding circle of humanity.
But here's one place where H+ gets it wrong:
My final prediction is this: In-Vitro Meat relishes success first in Europe, partly because its "greener," but mostly they already eat "yucky" delicacies like snails, smoked eel, blood pudding, pig's head cheese, and haggis (sheep's stomach stuffed with oatmeal). In the USA, IVM will initially invade the market in Spam cans and Hot Dogs, shapes that salivating shoppers are sold on as mysterious & artificial, but edible & absolutely American.
My prediction: Beaker bacon will be seen in Europe as having far more in common with genetically-modified corn than delicious invertebrates. Powerful entrenched dairy and meat interests, plus the other farmers who support their industry (remember those milky protests just a few weeks ago?) will play on the European aversion to food biotech to achieve their own protectionist ends. And they are quite likely to be successful, in the short and mid-term at least.
Farmers are powerful here in America as well, of course, and cultured chicken won't make it onto the menu without a fight. Using Spam as the thin end of the wedge—forgive the mixed meat metaphor—will allow an easier transition here, but will slow the adoption of laboratory lamb on the other side of the Atlantic even more.
With unemployment reaching double digits and public approval ratings sinking, ObamaCare has very little going for it at the moment. So how come Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have been able to march forward with their grand designs undeterred? One reason, writes Shikha Dalmia, is that Republicans have done precious little to seize the moral high ground from them. By insisting on the removal of the public option—instead of the individual mandate—as the price of doing business, Republicans have missed a major opportunity to put Democrats on the defensive and change the terms of the debate.View this article
Friday fun link: watch four maritime empires grow and decline.
• Henry Jenkins explores the art that falls between genres.
• Paul McAuley ponders two hidden histories of science fiction, one that highlights sf's intersection with respectable literature and one that plunges deep into the trash.
• The best alternate history story I've read this year. It is also one of the best pieces of rock writing I've read this year. It also contains Muppets.
From our December issue, Senior Editor Radley Balko wonders how the prosecutor who convicted an innocent man on dubious child molestation charges could go on to become a state superior court judge.View this article
If you ever get that feeling that you have already died and everything around you is some bizarre virtual afterlife designed to make you figure out that you're no longer on Earth, well, this video will clinch it for you:
Related: Does free agency help the terrorists? Iraqi detainees taunt Wisconsin National Guard troops with references to Brett Favre's defection from the Packers.
An audit of the Federal Reserve Bank would "substantially castrate the Fed so it cannot do what it was set up to do," Rep. Melvin Watt (D., N.C.) said yesterday, in an effort to tamp down a congressional uprising against the Bush/Obama economic team.
This devastating exchange Thursday between Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas); along with weeks of close attention to the mismanagement of federal stimulus funds; Rep. Ron Paul's long-lived Fed Audit bill; and last but not least, continuing horrible news on every indicator Geithner cited to Brady (and a few he didn't); have together started a fire that is threatening President Obama's economic brain trust.
The Wall Street Journal gives some color:
At the Joint Economic Committee, a couple of House Republicans called for the resignation of Mr. Geithner, who, as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, played a major role in last fall's moves to prevent the collapse of the financial system. "The public has lost all confidence in your ability to do the job," said Rep. Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas.
Mr. Geithner, in an unusual public display of pique, fired back. "What I can't take responsibility is for the legacy of crises you've bequeathed this country," he told Mr. Brady.
Although several Democrats defended Mr. Geithner at the hearing, some liberal Democrats have been complaining that the Obama administration isn't doing enough to combat unemployment....
"Quite frankly, all the gambling on Wall Street is doing nothing to put people back to work in America and rebuild our economy," said [Rep. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.), who earlier this week urged Geithner to resign].
One issue that has dogged Mr. Geithner is the rescue of American International Group Inc. last fall.... Mr. Geithner said Thursday that the government lacked powers it needed to handle the collapse of a financial company that wasn't legally organized as a bank. "Coming into AIG we had, basically, duct tape and string," he said...
Mr. Geithner's job status doesn't appear to be in jeopardy and several Democrats leapt to his defense.
I'm not so sure about that last bit. In his congressional hissy fit, Geithner gave the game away: He can't lay this on President Bush because, as Brady pointed out, when Bush presided over the $14 trillion inflation of assets that got us where we are today, Geithner was working the pumps with more eagerness than most .
As I noted the other day, Geithner's actions as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York will probably not be deemed sufficient to fire him from his current job. But it is false and stunningly uncouth for Geithner to blame the previous administration for his manifest failure as head of the Treasury.
Geithner v. Brady, on television:
As for Melvin Watt's husbandry metaphor, you may want to unpack the image a little bit. (If you need to be alone, I'm totally cool with that.) When you castrate an animal, you do so to keep it from breeding (or to groom it for soprano roles in Grande Opera). So exactly what action is the Fed performing for the U.S. economy that requires intact male genitals?
You might think that movies featuring bare-breasted starlets are more likely to blow up at the box office. But as Tom Jacobs notes in Miller-McCune, that perception suggests you might not be "keeping abreast* of the latest research."
Analyses of 914 films released between 2001 and 2005 indicated that sex and nudity do not, on the average, boost box office performance, earn critical acclaim or win major awards," reports a new study titled "Sex Doesn't Sell — Nor Impress." According to the researchers, sex and nudity were negatively correlated with a film's net profits from domestic distribution and had no positive impact on a picture's popularity or prestige according to a wide variety of measures.
"I have yet to see a way of crunching the numbers where sex/nudity has a positive relationship with box office, even controlling for MPAA rating or budget," reports co-author Anemone Cerridwen, an independent scholar based in Vancouver, British Columbia. "'Sex sells' is a myth, at least for this database."
Hollywood's Foreign Press Association, however, does seem more taken with the carnal:
"In the case of movie awards," they add, "sex/nudity does have a small positive correlation with the Golden Globes, an appreciation not shared with the Oscars."
Obviously, a tally like this doesn't include pornography; I also wonder if the lack of box-office boost from nudity is a recent phenomenon. As a movie geek, my impression has always been that bare breasts were a bigger selling point in the 1980s (especially in the genre market). And these days, with the advent of comprehensive celebrity nudity sites like Mr. Skin (obviously not safe for work!), which indexes starlet flesh, I suspect big-screen nudity is less of a draw.
On the other hand, if it's high-profile enough, celebrity nudity still draws traffic on the web: When Lindsay Lohan bared all (tastefully, of course) for New York magazine last year, web traffic instantly shot up 2,000 percent.
On behalf of everyone at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, Reason.tv, and Reason magazine, I want to thank you for generous support of our work. The webathon officially ends at midnight tonight, but as you can from our torch graphic in the upper-right-hand corner, you've polished off the arm and all but the tip of the fire up there too!
So far, over 600 of you in countries as far away as Australia and Japan kicked in more than $56,000 to keep our journalism, public policy research, and video productions running at top speed.
So again, thanks very much. We can't do it without you and we won't let you down as your voice in the public debate for "Free Minds and Free Markets." 2010 promises to be a hugely important year for politics and it's good to know that supporters like you have got our backs.
Once again, the Al Sharpton donation video:
The blogosphere is hopping with reports that the British Climate Research Unit's computers have been hacked and possibly embarrassing internal emails and other documents are now circulating on the web. Earlier this year, the CRU, which teams up with the Hadley Centre to produce one of the most cited global temperature datasets*, rejected accusations that it had destroyed original temperature data making it difficult for outside scientists to evaluate their adjustments to the datasets.
Before jumping to conclusions, remember that many of us write private emails that we might not want to see publicly distributed. Will follow up as details become available.
Mucho kudos to threadjacker PicassoIII.
*corrected. The CRU computers have been hacked, not those of the Hadley Centre as originally misreported.
Okay, so the word hasn't been banned. It's just been rendered useless.
Health and safety inspectors are to be given unprecedented access to family homes to ensure that parents are protecting their children from household accidents.
New guidance drawn up at the request of the Department of Health urges councils and other public sector bodies to “collect data” on properties where children are thought to be at “greatest risk of unintentional injury”.
Council staff will then be tasked with overseeing the installation of safety devices in homes, including smoke alarms, stair gates, hot water temperature restrictors, oven guards and window and door locks...
Nice also recommends the creation of a new government database to allow GPs, midwives and other officials who visit homes to log health and safety concerns they spot.
The guidance aims to “encourage all practitioners who visit families and carers with children and young people aged under 15 to provide home safety advice and, where necessary, conduct a home risk assessment”. It continues: “If possible, they should supply and install home safety equipment.”
The proposals have been put out to consultation and, if approved, will be implemented next year.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd released his plan for overhauling Wall Street regulations last week. Among its components is a proposed new organization, the Agency for Financial Stability, which would have the power to break-up those companies considered too big to fail. In other words, writes Reason Foundation Policy Analyst Anthony Randazzo, the agency would enjoy unprecedented power over the private sector.View this article
Not if you include the cost of the "doc fix"—the permanent change to Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors—that the House yanked out of their reform package so that its bad fiscal news wouldn't show up in their allegedly deficit neutral health care bill. Here's the CBO, responding to a request from Congressman Paul Ryan, on what happens when you look at the total effects of both the doc fix and the reform bill in the House:
CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 3961 [the "doc fix"], by itself, would cost $210 billion over the 2010–2019 period. CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation have separately estimated that enacting H.R. 3962 [the health care bill] would reduce federal budget deficits by $109 billion over that same period.
CBO estimates that enacting both bills would add $89 billion to budget deficits over the 2010–2019 period, somewhat less than the sum of the effects of enacting the bills separately because of interactions between their provisions. The agency estimates that the two bills together would increase the budget deficit in 2019 by $23 billion relative to current law, an increment that would grow in subsequent years.
Now, those numbers are reasonably small in comparison to the overall bill. But it's that last phrase—"an increment that would grow in subsequent years"—that is what's most important here. Not only would passing these two bills in combination (as House Democrats originally intended when they included them in a single bill) raise the deficit, it would produce lasting, expanding effects. The total result of reforms to our health care system, by the CBO's estimation, not only wouldn't be deficit neutral, but would actually create a new, long-term problem that's expected to get bigger over time.
If you don't like meanspirited posts, stop right now, and please continue to read the more even tempered and insightful commentaries of my big-souled colleagues. O.K. Let's move on. The Washington Post is running an article today about rich kid heirs who feel guilty about being "privileged" meeting at something called Resource Generation to whine about their burdens. Look, if your parents gave you their money, as far as I'm concerned you can fritter it away on diamonds or the destitute. Your choice.
But a specific example of moral posturing really irritated me. From the Post:
Janelle Treibitz, 28, a part-time waitress who performs with the Puppet Underground performance group, which raises money for grass-roots organizations, could relate.
"In Vermont [this year], I broke my finger and didn't have insurance," said Treibitz, whose father is chief executive of a Colorado company that designs visual presentations for court trials. "I got my X-ray and gave [the hospital] a fake name and walked out. Is that okay that I am doing that -- taking up resources because I am refusing to take money from my parents?"
Let me help Ms. Trebitz with her moral quandary: NO! IT IS NOT OK!
Just how much might a visit to a Vermont emergency room have cost her? Vermont offers a price list of outpatient diagnostic services available at acute care hospitals. A level 1 emergency visit averages a total of $207. A level two visit costs an average of $309. Maybe Ms. Trebitz would have had to take some time off from her protest puppeteering to work full time as a waitress in order to pay this off, but these charges would not have bankrupted her. Her lying to get free medical care was simply, hmm, how shall I say it? The act of an irresponsible overprivileged morally smug rich kid.
The Manhattan Institute’s John McWhorter is perhaps best known for his fierce criticism of rap music (though he does enjoy a little Snoop Dogg) and the black left. Lately, however, McWhorter’s aim has been focused on a new target: America’s destructive and futile War on Drugs. Writing at The New Republic about the tragic murder of a Bronx teenager caught in some gangland crossfire, he presses the case for legalization:
The simple fact is that if there were no profit to be made in selling drugs on the street, no one would bother. For all of the “root causes” reasons so many young black and Latino men turn to this trade instead of seeking legal work, if there were no War on Drugs, they would seek other solutions to the obstacles that face them. And whatever those were, they would involve less murder, fewer crossfire injuries and killings of the kind that have likely ruined Ms. Vasquez’ life at 15, fewer men in prison for long periods, and fewer of their children growing up fatherless and on their way to repeating their father’s mistakes.
Read the rest here.
• The European Union gets a president.
• The Treasury will auction off its investments in JPMorgan Chase, Capital One Financial, and TCF Financial.
• A fancy horsey academy becomes a secret CIA torture lair.
• Philadelphia politicians push a requirement to register all bicycles owned by anyone over 12.
• How taxi regulation works in Washington.
• Role reversal: A Beijing court says Microsoft infringed a Chinese company's intellectual property.
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Chip Bok chronicles Obama's trip abroad.View this article
Put on your shades, put the top down, crank up the ranchera tunes, and cruise around Hollywood (the actual neighborhood, not the symbolic movie industry) in search of your tax dollars. In the LA Weekly, Tim Cavanaugh writes, "Hollywood has received $23,338,327 in grants, loans and contracting. This money has created just 20.57 jobs. That’s $1,134,580.80 per job. And as interviews with recipients reveal, even that tiny jobs claim is clearly false, with many of the claims of newly created positions either impossible to verify or lower than reported." In Los Angeles as in most other places, the bulk of stimuls funds are going to maintain cash-strapped public agencies and to fund prior commitments, not to save or create jobs.
The measure was approved by the House Financial Services Committee as it considered broad bank regulatory reform legislation, and included a package of other measures weakening the Fed's power and capping how much it can lend or guarantee.
The committee is now poised to pass the entire bill and has scheduled its final vote on the legislation for December 1.
Lawmakers also agreed to provisions that would require the Fed to work with other regulators before acting as a lender-of-last-resort.
"If you care about transparency of the Fed, you would allow a look at monetary policy," Paul said. "We're dealing with trillions of dollars that doesn't get audited. There is no reason why the world can't know, eventually, what the Fed is doing."
Paul's measure, which was approved by a vote of 43 to 26, would require the Government Accountability Office to audit the central bank's interest rate policy, agreements with foreign governments, foreign central banks and the International Monetary Fund. It also would permit audits of a roughly $800 billion Fed mortgage-backed securities purchase program, which could grow to $1.25 trillion, Paul said.
The GAO would be instructed to complete a Fed audit within 12 months of passage of the bill.
For background, see my November Reason magazine feature on how this unlikely bill took anti-Fed thought from the fringes to the mainstream
Unflappable Los Angeles media watchdog Patterico reminds us why we're lucky to have James Rainey to kick around. L.A. Times media columnist Rainey is the Gale Gordon of newspapermen: an absurd figure whose absurdity comes from his taking himself with absolute, scowling seriousness. No matter how much ridiculous writing he generates or how many ethical pickles he gets himself into, Rainey is never less than 110 percent convinced of his own rectitude.
And when you know you're right, you don't need to check any facts. Back when the still-unfolding ACORN hidden camera story started breaking, Rainey condemned the conservative media's unseemly race to the bottom. If he had been content merely to bury all signs of life under the reliably heavy snowdrifts of his prose (sample: "No legitimate news organization can claim editorial integrity if it merely regurgitates information from political activists without subjecting the material to serious scrutiny"), Rainey would have been OK. Sadly, in his zeal to exonerate ACORN, Rainey uncritically regurgitated some self-exculpatory quotes from local ACORN employee Lavelle Stewart, who asserted that she had sent Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe away after they claimed to be, respectively, a prostitute trafficking in underage sex slaves and a pimp with congressional aspirations.
Now the James and Hannah show has come to the City of the Angels. Patterico, who was skeptical of Stewart's claims from the start, takes up the narrative:
When Rainey failed to respond, I contacted [Andrew] Breitbart (he’s very easy to reach) and asked him. Breitbart confirmed that Rainey hadn’t bothered to contact Breitbart — or Giles or O’Keefe — to ask their side of the story. I asked Breitbart what he would have told Rainey about Lavelle Stewart’s denials, and Breitbart said he would have told Rainey:
As an empathetic being, I urge you to think twice before accepting the word of an ACORN employee for anything. Because every journalist who has done so has ended up with egg on his or her face.
It’s too bad Rainey never received that warning. Because guess who is the star of Giles and O’Keefe’s latest ACORN video?
The new video is up at Big Government, and as always, I find it kind of moving the way these ladies at ACORN seem to treat Hannah Giles with real sisterly affection. Here, when Stewart senses Giles is depressed, she gives the fake human trafficker a nice you-go-girl pep talk. (She also offers to provide research and networking assistance to Giles and O'Keefe in setting up their "international sex business.")
Last year, Nick Gillespie had fun with a gaseous Rainey column on editorial cartoonists, which reminds me of the first time I fell afoul of Rainey -- by making fun of a completely awful Times editorial cartoon in Rainey's glaring, glowering presence.
Americans for Limited Government wants the Senate Finance Committee to block the appointment of Lael Brainard as undersecretary of the treasury for international affairs because of her imperfect compliance with the tax laws. The Associated Press reports:
[Brainard] was late in paying real estate taxes in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The report by the Senate Finance Committee staff also challenges the accuracy of a deduction Brainard claimed for running an office from her home. The challenge led Brainard to reduce the deduction on her 2008 return.
"Enough is enough with the tax cheats in the Obama Administration," says ALG President Bill Wilson. I'm not so sure about that. Perhaps the Treasury Department, and the IRS in particular, should be run entirely by "tax cheats," with the proviso that no American be punished for any of the infractions that the department's leaders have committed. Sort of a Lord High Tax Collector arrangement.
Even though I work from home and have a room set aside for that purpose, I am pretty sure that an audit (or a somewhat less likely review by the staff of the Senate Finance Committee) would reveal something wrong with my deduction for said office (e.g., although the room is supposed to be used only for business, just this morning I recklessly allowed our 3-year-old daughter to draw a picture there). Who among us can confidently assert that he has complied with every jot and tittle of the Internal Revenue Code, a set of requirements so vast and vague that five different accountants (or five different IRS employees) are apt to give you five different answers to the same tax question?
I sympathize with the argument that elevating "tax cheats" to high positions in the department charged with administering the tax system creates the impression that public officials are above the law. But the real scandal is that complying with the law is so difficult you can't be sure you're doing it right even when you consult experts.
In February Katherine Mangu-Ward argued that "when Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner, and other politicians cheat on or screw up their taxes...they're just doing what the rest of us do every year." More on tax code complexity here and here.
Daniel Schorr emerges from the freezer where he's preserved in the NPR basement, takes a hard look at the Fort Hood massacre, and identifies the real enemy: a series of tubes.
From what is publicly known about Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused killer of 13 in a rampage at Fort Hood, he had no accomplice -- unless you count the Internet in which he communed, exchanging sinister thoughts with an extremist cleric....
A decade ago, the army psychiatrist had frequented a mosque in Northern Virginia where Awlaki preached. More recently, a year ago, he sought to renew that contact by e-mail. The cleric has said that he did not reply to the first two or three messages, but then opened a relationship in which several more e-mails were exchanged over a year.
Texts of the messages have not been released, so it is difficult to know who said what to whom. It is not known whether Fort Hood or any other target was specifically discussed. But the tone of the relationship can be judged by a message Awlaki posted on his Web site after the Fort Hood attack. It said, "Fighting against the U.S. Army is an Islamic duty today."...
Is the radical imam culpable for retroactively justifying the attack? Or does the Internet merit some of the responsibility for helping the violence prone to fester there in communion with the machine?
If email makes you shoot people, do microphones make you stupid?
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) make the case for auditing the Federal Reserve in today’s Wall Street Journal:
For nearly a century the Federal Reserve has operated in the shadows, away from the prying eyes of Congress, journalists and the American people. Created in 1913, the Fed was given enormous responsibility to protect the value of our currency. Yet in the last 96 years the U.S. dollar has lost more than 95% of its purchasing power. The Fed's unprecedented actions over the past year in attempting to stabilize the financial system have now forced it into the spotlight, and caused millions of people around the country to question the opacity of the Fed's financial transactions....
What is needed is a full audit of the Fed, something that has never happened. We need to know who the Fed is giving money to, what types of securities are being purchased and what backs those securities, how much money is being paid for those securities, etc....
As strong opponents of government intervention into the economy, we do not want to see Congress directly dictate monetary policy. But while the Fed is involved so heavily in monetary policy and its actions so heavily influence the future of our economy, it is necessary that it be fully transparent. Interventions into the economy on the order of trillions of dollars cannot continue to escape public scrutiny. American taxpayers deserve better.
The Food and Drug Administration is threatening to ban alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine, saying the combination has not been proven safe. No kidding. Since no one thinks that adding caffeine to alcohol eliminates the latter's inherent hazards, it seems unlikely that manufacturers will be able to satisfy the FDA's demand for "clear evidence of safety." Within 30 days, no less. So it looks like the end of the line for products like Joose, which combines a malt beverage containing about 10 percent alcohol with ingredients typically found in energy drinks, such as caffeine, ginseng, and taurine. Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors already have stopped selling similar products (Tilt and Sparks, respectively) under pressure from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other busybodies.
The critics argue that adding caffeine to alcohol makes people underestimate their drunkenness. They cite a 2007 survey by researchers at Wake Forest University that found college students who consumed cocktails based on energy drinks such as Red Bull were twice as likely as other drinkers to be injured in accidents, to ride with intoxicated drivers, and to get involved in regrettable sexual incidents. It's possible, of course, that such associations can be explained by the characteristics of young drinkers who favor trendy concoctions such as the Annihilator and the Apple Pucker Mother Fucker, as opposed to the special dangers of combining alcohol with caffeine.
In any event, the FDA has no power to stop the mixing of such politically incorrect cocktails, or to bar the preparation of scary innovations like "Irish" coffee or Rum and Coke (street name: Cuba Libre). All it can do is make an empty gesture by arbitrarily banning the newer (and therefore presumptively more dangerous) drinks, which offend professional meddlers less because of their pharmacological action than because of their producers' brazen speech.
In theory, antitrust is there to prevent big businesses from grabbing too much market share. In practice, it can squelch the little guy just as easily as it can lift him up. Here's Jay Hancock, no foe of antitrust in general, on one recent action by the Federal Trade Commission:
This month Snyder's of Hanover and Utz Quality Foods, both in Hanover [Pennsylvania]...halted a planned merger after regulators intervened.
In deciding to extend its review of the deal, the Federal Trade Commission sought documents that would have cost the companies millions of dollars and months of uncertainty.
"They were asking for a lot of data - obviously a very expensive process" says Utz President Tom Dempsey. "We looked at it and said, 'We've got to make a business decision here.' We just decided this isn't something we're prepared to go forward on."
Too bad. The merger, which the companies said would have been layoff-free, could have given them fighting weight to compete against monsters Frito-Lay and Kraft. It would have been good for Hanover, where they employ a couple of thousand people.
Not in anybody's imagination (except maybe an antitrust regulator's) could it have hurt consumers.
Between them Frito-Lay and Kraft control well over half of the U.S. snack market. Frito-Lay makes the eponymous chips and other junk food. Kraft makes Ritz and Triscuit crackers and Mister Salty pretzels.
Snyder's market share, by contrast, is about 2 percent. Utz's is even less. Combined, they would control a smaller portion of the snack business than Microsoft's share of Web-search activity.
Yesterday's Reason.tv video on the U.S. antiquated air-traffic control system eerily anticipated the major screw-ups currently being caused by the Federal Aviation Administration's computers.
FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said she doesn't know how many flights are being affected or when the problem will be resolved.
Another FAA spokesperson, Paul Takemoto, said the problem started between 5:15 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. EST. The outage is affecting mostly flight plans but also traffic management, such as ground stops and ground delays, he said.
Regarding flight plans, airplane dispatchers are now sending plans to controllers and controllers in turn are entering them into computers manually, he said.
"It's slowing everything down. We don't know yet what the impact on delays will be," Takemoto said.
A problem with the FAA system that collects airlines' flight plans caused widespread flight cancellations and delays nationwide Thursday. It was the second time in 15 months that a glitch in the flight plan system caused delays.
Here's the video:
From our December issue, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum explains what the efforts to ban the psychedelic herb Salvia divonorum reveal about how drug policy gets made.View this article
The Los Angeles Times notices that people can overcome drinking problems without abstaining from alcohol for the rest of their lives. More important, the Times quotes Mark Willenbring, director of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, who admits that the one-size-fits-all, abstinence-only approach preached by Alcoholics Anonymous is inconsisent with the evidence on drinking patterns (emphasis added):
We're on the cusp of some major advances in how we conceptualize alcoholism. The focus now is on the large group of people who are not yet dependent. But they are at risk for developing dependence....[Alcoholism] can be a chronic, relapsing disease. But it isn't usually that.
Sticklers may question whether a pattern of behavior—in this case, excessive drinking—can ever be accurately described as a disease. But for the treatment establishment, long dominated by A.A.-style thinking, these concessions count as substantial progress. The Times attributes the shift to the findings of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which has been checking in on a representative sample of 43,000 Americans since 2001. According to the survey, "About 30% of Americans had experienced a disorder...but about 70% of those quit drinking or cut back to safe consumption patterns without treatment after four years or less. Only 1% of those surveyed fit the stereotypical image of someone with severe, recurring alcohol addiction who has hit the skids."
The Times understates the significance of these numbers, saying "top addiction experts" now believe that "many drinkers can evaluate their habits and...change those habits if necessary" and that "even some people who have what are now termed alcohol-use disorders...can cut back on consumption before it disrupts education, ruins careers and damages health." What the research actually indicates is that the vast majority of problem drinkers "get better" without treatment. And among those once classified as "alcohol dependent," moderation is about three times as common as abstinence. The scenario that traditionally has been presented as typical—the alcohol abuser who can get his life back on track only by swearing off booze forever—is in fact unusual among problem drinkers.
The psychologist Stanton Peele, an addiction expert who has long questioned the abstinence-only approach to alcohol problems, highlighted the evidence supporting a moderation alternative in the November 2000 issue of Reason.
Geez, Republicans. Enough with the torture already. Haven't those Gitmo guys suffered enough?
From today's Roll Call.
Taxation is just one way government gets money, writes John Stossel. The other ways—borrowing and inflation—are equally burdens on the people. As the late Milton Friedman put it, the true burden of government is the spending level.View this article
Freelance journalist Nick Martin has an update on Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff's Deputy Adam Stoddard, who last October was caught on video swiping a file in open court from defense attorney defense attorney Joanne Cuccia.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe held a hearing on the matter, and on Tuesday ordered Stoddard to hold a press conference to apologize. It's a weak and odd way of admonishing Stoddard for such a brazen trespass on attorney-client privilege (not to mention Stoddard's arguable violation of a number of other laws, rights, and rules of procedure).
But even that was too much for Stoddard's boss, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Wednesday it will be a cold day in Maricopa County before one of his officers apologizes for taking an attorney’s confidential files...
“Superior Court judges do not order my officers to hold press conferences,” Arpaio said in a news release. “I decide who holds press conferences and when they are held.”
An attorney for the sheriff, Tom Liddy, went even further, saying it’s unlikely Stoddard will go to jail for defying the judge’s order. “Folks should not hold their breaths,” he said.
But the sheriff’s office, which runs the county jails, doesn’t plan to defy the order outright. Liddy said the agency will challenge it in a higher court.
The attorney said the order violates Stoddard’s rights to free speech.
The judge “cannot order somebody to lie,” Liddy said. “Of course he’s not sorry for doing his job…It’s absurd on his face.”
I hate to admit it, but Arpaio might have a point here. Not with respect to Stoddard's conduct, which was reprehensible, but with Judge Donahoe's order. You get the impression Donahoe was trying to duck any serious sanction. He knew he had to address the seriousness of Stoddard's actions, but didn't want to actually hold him in contempt (at the hearing, Donahoe emphasized the "fine line" he has to walk between honoring the officers who secure his courtroom and holding Stoddard accountable).
But by bizarrely ordering the obstinate Stoddard to hold a press conference, he probably just made the whole situation a lot worse.
San Francisco DJs at underground parties in SOMA are claiming that their equipment is being unfairly seized, and in some cases being held beyond a reasonable amount of time, by the San Francisco Police Department. A national electronic-rights organization is investigating the claims.
Over the past six months, music fans who have been spinning records — or even just attending friends' events — claim their laptops, soundboards, and mixers have been taken by the cops in police raids. The busted gatherings include an illegal dance party, an artist fundraiser, and a private Halloween bash. While it's unclear whether the lack of official permits was enough reason to close down all these parties, the bigger question is why the police are seizing and holding private property that DJs and attendees use as valuable tools for making their art and living....
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is taking on [DJ's Justin] Credible's and [Matthew] Higgins' cases [who had their laptops stolen by the cops]....Civil liberties director Jennifer Granick says she's concerned about the recent laptop grabs because they've apparently been done without arrests being made...."You can't just go to a party and say, 'You can't have a party because it's after hours and you don't have a permit,' and just take people's property," she adds. She points out that taking laptops away is "a real interference with people's livelihood, whether they are professional DJs or they work somewhere else."
The SFPD gave only a very general explanation for the justification behind cops removing computers and other gear from party scenes. "They're being taken as evidence as part of the allegation of the complaint that's taken place and/or crime that's taken place," says Sergeant Wilfred Williams, who adds that arrests don't have to be made for property to be seized. He explains that sometimes people are simply cited, and then equipment believed to have been used to promote a party is booked into evidence.
The EFF's web site.
When last we checked in on Mary Beth Buchanan, President Bush's porn-hatin', Tommy Chong-persecutin', "Whizzinator" confiscatin', jury-intimidatin' U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, she was clinging to her job with white knuckles, damn-near daring incoming President Barack Obama to fire her.
Nearly a year later, Buchanan has finally served her last day on the job. Her one regret? Not that she spent spent several hundred thousand dollars prosecuting medical examiner Cyril Wecht for what in the end amounted to charges of spending about four dollars of county money on personal faxes. Not that she put perjurred testimony into evidence and sent Dr. Bernard Rottschaefer to prison for the non-crime of treating people in pain. Not that she wasted taxpayer money by bringing tedious federal obscenity cases in cases involving all consenting adults.
No, Buchanan told a local TV station this week her one regret is offering a plea bargain to celebrity stoner Tommy Chong, letting him off with a mere nine months in prison for selling glass pipes over the Internet.
"I'm honored to be Mary Beth's only regret. Now does she regret going after me? Or does she regret that I never got enough time? I tend to think she wishes she'd never heard my name. I have become her legacy. Mary Beth Loose Cannon is now looking for a job. She blew her last job busting me. Karma is so sweet! She's looking for a work while Cheech and I start our second multi-million dollar tour thanks to the publicity she created for us! Thank you Mary Beth - may you find peace and happiness in your search for your soul."
Two Buchanan critics in the Pittsburgh area tell me the rumor there is that she's setting her sights on the congressional seat currently held by first-term Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Penn.).
We all know that a lot of people are harmed by prohibition, but who benefits? Strangely enough, some of the biggest beneficiaries are the bootleggers. Sure, they take a big risk, but black marketeers don't have to pay taxes, they're protected from foreign competition, and they benefit from artificially inflated prices. Talk about protectionism.
What kind of message would an honest American Marijuana Growers Association have for us? "Thank you for your support of marijuana prohibition and buy American pot!"
"Buy American Pot" PSA was produced by Paul Feine, Alex Manning, and Hawk Jensen.
For downloadable versions and embed codes, go to Reason.tv.
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Live chat with the Seigfried and Roy of alternative politics that will inevitably lead to the great libertarian future, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, who are dialing in from opposite ends of the country because they are so goddamned sick and tired of debating which one is Seigfried and which one is Roy.
The fun begins right here at Reason.com today, Thursday, 1PM ET.
Two editors in chief enter the Thunderdome of live chat.
Three will exit.
Ear-biting, ankle-twisting, and the Sleeper Hold will be allowed. Name-calling not.
This chat is part of our 2009 Webathon, which ends on Friday (promise!). Thanks for your generous support. For more info, go here now.
- Federal judge finds that negligence on the part of the Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for flooding in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward during Hurricane Katrina.
- Taxpayer-funded, $55 million Pontiac Silverdome sells for $583K.
- Texas anti-gay marriage amendment may have accidentally nullified all marriages in the state.
- Human Rights Watch: Cuba may actually be worse under Raul Castro.
- Study concludes daily alcohol consumption cuts men's heart disease risk by a third.
The 19th century American writer Henry Adams said the descent of American presidents from George Washington to Ulysses S. Grant was enough to discredit the theory of evolution. And as Steve Chapman writes, the same could be said of the pantheon of conservative political heroes, which in the last half-century has gone from Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan to Sarah Palin.View this article
After several days of delays, the Senate finally released its health care reform legislation and the official Congressional Budget Office score to go along with it. Despite promises that the bill and the score would be available around 5 p.m. this evening, the CBO's full analysis wasn't released until fairly late in the evening, leaving most reporters with nothing to report but the headline numbers put out early on by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Needless to say, those numbers are the numbers Reid is happiest to have people see: According to a handout prepared for reporters this evening, the bill would cost about $850 billion, cover 94 percent of the uninsured, reduce the deficit by $127 billion over 10 years, and reduce the deficit by a further $650 billion over the following decade. Since the CBO's data-heavy 31-page report, which explains the assumptions behind those numbers, was released so late, those are the numbers that dominated the evening news, and they're also the numbers that will make headlines in newspapers tomorrow morning.
Naturally, those reports won't include any detailed analysis of the bill's score. Nor will they include the any of the score's caveats, such as the CBO's caution that "the range of uncertainty surrounding that assessment [of the federal budgetary commitment to health care] is quite wide," or its now-familiar warning that "these longer-term calculations assume that the provisions are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation."
So whether it was by design or not, Harry Reid effectively won himself a news cycle by putting out the news he wanted people to see in advance of the substantive report.
Attended an L.A. City Council meeting today in which it was rumored they would actually vote on a proposed ordinance to finalize a set regulatory structure for a situation that both enemies of medical pot and even many of its friends consider an out-of-control free-for-all of allegedly 800-1,000 medi-pot emporiums in the city. (The phrase "wild west" to apply to L.A. and its interestingly, and accidentally, free-wheeling regulatory approach, so far, to medical dispensaries becomes a tired cliche quickly when you listen to enough people complain about it.)
The whole story of L.A. and medical pot is long and complicated--and will be told at appropriate length in an upcoming Reason magazine feature--and for now it is continuing.
Today, after many hours of public comment and councilperson jousting with William Carter from the City Attorney's office--who says, although the councilpeople don't wanna hear it, that any sort of sale of pot in a medical dispensary is inherently illegal--the Council decided to put off a vote on the currently proposed ordinance.
They punted until at least early next week while they hash over various proposed amendments and try to get a consensus. Issues brought up by various councilpeople about ways they want to think about adjusting the ordinance include: figuring out ways to squeeze more money out of the dispensaries; how or whether to grandfather in the 186 dispensaries that already registered under a previous regulatory regime; demands regarding how much cash the dispensaries can have on hand; how accessible patient records will be to cops; and whether they will need to be 500 feet away from any other medical or pharmaceutical location.
It seems clear to me that the council intends to ignore the advice of their attorney and authorize sales in some respect, though not for profit sales. They also seem certain to cap the total number of legal dispensaries, though whether it will be approximately 70 (a number many of them liked, from a city planner) or as many as 400 (argued for by some medical pot activists) remains to be seen. Developing, as they say.
For some background on L.A. and its contentious relationship with medical pot, see Jacob Sullum from yesterday on the council's willingness to defy their city attorney, and on their D.A.'s concomitant willingness to defy them. See also me from my California news and politics blog "City of Angles" here (focused on the current legal wranglings) and here (explaining how a past attempt at a pot shop "moratorium" in fact more than tripled the number in operation in L.A.).
Nouriel Roubini, the economist Gawker calls a "vampire who feeds on the hopes and dreams of the unemployed," makes a leap of logic so impossible it can't be seen by the naked eye.
In a New York Daily News column, Roubini rehashes bits that will now be familiar to regular roubinoids: The unemployment picture is going to get worse and worse; the official rate of unemployment could remain above 11 percent for years; the monthly job loss rate is still higher than it was in the post-dotcom era (when doctors still treated flu patients with bloodletting). A typically chilling vision:
The long-term picture for workers and families is even worse than current job loss numbers alone would suggest. Now as a way of sharing the pain, many firms are telling their workers to cut hours, take furloughs and accept lower wages. Specifically, that fall in hours worked is equivalent to another 3 million full time jobs lost on top of the 7.5 million jobs formally lost.
This is very bad news but we must face facts. Many of the lost jobs are gone forever, including construction jobs, finance jobs and manufacturing jobs. Recent studies suggest that a quarter of U.S. jobs are fully out-sourceable over time to other countries.
Sounds like a situation society can't really solve and should instead be looking to manage, right? Wrong. Roubini has a solution:
There's really just one hope for our leaders to turn things around: a bold prescription that increases the fiscal stimulus with another round of labor-intensive, shovel-ready infrastructure projects, helps fiscally strapped state and local governments and provides a temporary tax credit to the private sector to hire more workers. Helping the unemployed just by extending unemployment benefits is necessary not sufficient; it leads to persistent unemployment rather than job creation.
If the job losses are as permanent as Roubini says, and if 25 percent of American jobs would be more economically done overseas, that's a structural problem that will not be turned around by spending on "labor-intensive, shovel-ready infrastructure projects." (How can anyody still type phrases like that without puking?) A solution would be something that makes it more cost-effective to employ people in America, by allowing wages to fall and productivity to increase. The kind of spending Roubini favors will at best minimize some pain for some dislocated workers in the short term.
Now how much would you spend? But wait! As has been very, very, very heavily documented, Stimulus I (or Stimulus IV if you're using my counting system) has not in fact been minimizing much pain for many, or any, dislocated workers. (My own contribution to this research -- a gander at how much job saving and creating the stimulus has done in Hollywood -- will be appearing in the LA Weekly one of these days.) Many commenters at the Snooze beat up Roubini for this very point: When you're an internationally fêted economist, the urge to do something -- something dammit! -- for the Fabulous Little People is no doubt very strong; but let's see what we bought with the first trillion before we spend the second.
Writing in the DC Examiner, the Cato Institute’s Gene Healy cautions against getting too excited about President Barack Obama’s alleged commitment to federalism:
Friends of federalism cheered last month when the Obama administration reversed the Bush policy of prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states that have legalized the practice. Welcome though that change was, let's hold the applause.
Not yet a year into his administration, Obama's record on 10th Amendment issues is already clear: He'll let the states have their way when their policies please blue team sensibilities and he'll call in the feds when they don't. Thus, he'll grant California a waiver to allow it to raise auto emissions standards, but he'll bring the hammer down when the state tries to cut payments to unionized health care workers....
Our federal system shouldn't be a red team/blue team issue, respected or flouted depending on who's up and who's down. Conservatives are learning to rue their abandonment of federalist principles during the last administration; liberals may come to regret their rush toward centralization during the next.
From our December issue, Shikha Dalmia interviews Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati about the trouble with protectionism, how to deal with climate change, and why NAFTA was bad for free trade.View this article
At BigGovernment.com, Associate Editor Damon W. Root explains what ACORN, a self-described champion of “social and economic justice,” is doing in bed with shady real estate powerbroker Bruce Ratner. Here's a hint: Follow the money.
I had a very pleasant private conversation this year with a certain famous libertarian person who told me that he wakes up in the morning, reads The New York Times on his Kindle, then fires up Reason on the device (subscribe to our Kindle version today!) for "counter-programming." While I don't necessarily view our humble mag/website/blog/video juggernaut in opposition to the Great Grey-Green, Greasy Lady, we have since 1968 been counter-programming against the dominant media tropes of our times, from the murderous to the trivial. Unsurprisingly, that has led to some interesting pushback over one of the 20th century's two most murderous isms. For the latest example, you need only read yesterday's paper, but only after DONATING TO REASON RIGHT THE HELL NOW.
On Nov. 17, the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's stirring Velvet Revolution, The New York Times commemorated the event by...getting the story behind the revolution's name wrong, right there in the second paragraph:
Vaclav Havel, the dissident leader who spearheaded the Velvet Revolution that overthrew communism in Czechoslovakia and kicked off twenty years ago on November 17, 1989, once declared that "truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred." Yet the revolution — its name a reference to the clenched fist in the velvet glove — was sparked by a false rumor that to this day remains a mystery.
Clenched fist in a velvet glove? What?
As in many events of 20 years ago this month (including the phony rumor of a murdered Czech student referenced above), the precise history of the VR's nomenclature is fuzzy; the pre-eminent 1989 historian Timothy Garton Ash recently wrote that "Despite extensive inquiries with leading Czech and Western historians of the velvet revolution, I have not [yet] been able to pin down the first use." Still, there are only two plausible explanations I've ever heard for the term sticking. These are, in order: 1) Even by the standards of 1989 anti-communist revolutions, Czechoslovakia's was uncommongly gentle and poetic, kind of like velvet (the "clenched fist" and "velvet glove" in this case are explanatory metaphors very sporadically used by foreign journalists, almost never by Czechs); and more amusingly, 2):
That's what remains of the Velvet Revival Band (featuring one of Prague's leading economics journalists there on guitar, BTW). These guys were formed in the early '80s by several members of the ballyhooed Plastic People of the Universe, the dirty, theatrical rock band whose arrest and show trial in 1976 prompted Vaclav Havel to launch Charter 77. The Plastics (as they were referred to in Tom Stoppard's great play Rock & Roll) somehow got their grubby paws on The Velvet Underground & Nico during the brief cultural openness of 1968, and went nuts over the stuff, cribbing the VU's songs, style, and instrumentation (a good thing, too, since their other huge influence was Frank Zappa). By 1969, their music (all of it) was made criminal, and one of the only ways they were legally allowed to play was at weddings, under names created special for the one-time events, and so some of these underground shows became all-Underground shows, and a legend was born.
This VU-Plastics-Charter 77-Revolution process was such that when Havel eventually met Lou Reed in 1990, some of his first words were "Did you know that I am president because of you?" As The Observer's Ed Vulliamy put it last month, "This is the most extraordinary story that ever entwined politics and rock music." You can read all about it not in yesterday's New York Times, but in my 2003 Reason profile of Vaclav Havel.
As mistakes go, that borders on the trivial. Less so was the outright Fidel Castro propaganda churned out by The Times' Herbert Matthews, subject of a March 2007 cover story by Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin. As then-Reason caudillo Nick Gillespie wrote (before being ousted in a coup):
[I]t's shocking that many in the mainstream media adore the man and the tropical gulag he created....He's "Cuba's own Elvis," enthused former CBS anchor Dan Rather. Eleanor Clift of Newsweek argued that the orphaned Elian Gonzalez should have been returned to Cuba not simply to be reunited with his father but because that country offered him a brighter future than he had in the United States. ABC's Barbara Walters hosted a dinner party for the dictator where he joked with bigwigs from Time, NPR, The Washington Post, and other elite media outlets.
Garvin also contributed a great piece in 2004 about how the same journalists and thinkers that got soviet communism so terribly wrong never did get around to engaging in their own internal criticism:
In 1983 the Indiana University historian Robert F. Byrnes collected essays from 35 experts on the Soviet Union -- the cream of American academia -- in a book titled After Brezhnev. Their conclusion: Any U.S. thought of winning the Cold War was a pipe dream. "The Soviet Union is going to remain a stable state, with a very stable, conservative, immobile government," Byrnes said in an interview, summing up the book. "We don't see any collapse or weakening of the Soviet system."
Barely six years later, the Soviet empire began falling apart. By 1991 it had vanished from the face of the earth. Did Professor Byrnes call a press conference to offer an apology for the collective stupidity of his colleagues, or for his part in recording it? Did he edit a new work titled Gosh, We Didn't Know Our Ass From Our Elbow? Hardly. Being part of the American chattering class means never having to say you're sorry.
Why is this stuff important in 2009? I'll give you four reasons: 1) These people continue to frame much of the world we see today, whether writing about the politics of Pete Seeger, the "gorgeous, tropical decay" of untouristed Havana, or how Mikhail Gorbachev is a saint; 2) It is an insight that can't be stressed enough: The "vulgar" or even straight up Marxist American culture that western conservatives have historically loved to hate can and will be used by the subjects of authoritarian regimes to fight for their liberation; 3) The "lessons" of the Cold War are guaranteed to be misunderstood and misapplied whenever Washington seeks to be more interventionist abroad, and are therefore worth knowing well; and 4) In 2009, the virtue of free-market capitalism is under attack as it hasn't been in two decades, a fact that has been exacerbated by the media's ongoing yawn at the 20th anniversary of the most liberating month in human history. As I wrote in my November editor's note:
In 1988, according to the global liberty watchdog Freedom House, just 36 percent of the world’s 167 independent countries were "free," 23 percent were "partly free," and 41 percent were "not free." By 2008, not only were there 26 additional countries (including such new "free" entities as Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia), but the ratios had reversed: 46 percent were "free," 32 percent were "partly free," and just 22 percent were "not free." There were only 69 electoral democracies in 1989; by 2008 their ranks had swelled to 119.
At Reason we are equal opportunity in our contempt for authoritarianism, taking commies and Nazis seriously enough that we don't glibly use the terms to describe whatever American we don't like today, nor do we take lightly those who continue to be soft on totalitarianism. Roll videotape!
Remember, when you donate to Reason right the hell now, the color in that torch up there in the top right inches a little higher. And it ain't red, if you know what I mean.
Live chat with the Glimmer Twins of Late-Capitalist America, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch.
The fun begins right here at Reason.com tomorrow, Thursday, 1PM ET.
All your questions answered! All your sacred cows gored! All Al Gores sacralized!
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President Obama in a speech to the National Conference of State Legislatures on March 2009:
Now, no plan is perfect. And I can't stand here and promise you that not one single dollar will slip through the cracks. But what I can promise you is that we will do everything in our power to prevent that from happening, which is why we're building on the provisions in the Recovery Act to forbid the use of these funds to build things like dog parks.
Now, let me be clear. I don't have anything against dog parks. [Laughter] I intend to get a dog. [Laughter] What I do oppose is building them with funds from the Recovery Act, because that's not how we'll jumpstart job creation, and that's not how we'll put our economy on a firmer footing for the future.
Half a block from my house, November 2009:
Yep. That's a state-of-the-art dog park, paid for with stimulus money.
Like the man said: No plan is perfect.
"My body, my choice" has long been a rallying cry for abortion-rights advocates on the left, many of whom have recently been vocal supporters of the Democratic health care reform agenda. But as abortion advocates are now discovering, abortion rights aren't as easily compatible with health care reform as they might have once thought. As Associate Editor Peter Suderman writes, it turns out that the more government gets involved in health care, the more difficult it becomes to truly retain choices about one's body.View this article
With unemployment rising and the economy swooning, ObamaCare has nothing going for it anymore. So why do Republicans seem so hopeless and hapless in defeating it? One reason, says Shikha Dalmia in her latest Forbes column, is that they have focused on the wrong issue. Instead of exposing the dangers of forcing Americans to purchase coverage, Republicans have droned on wonkishly about the "public option."
But a mandate will fundamentally alter the relationship between Americans and their government. Instead of the government being accountable to them, they will become accountable to their government. No less than the Congressional Budget Office—a non-partisan government agency—once admitted as much. "A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action, it noted. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States."
If the government can force Americans to buy coverage on the threat of fines or even imprisonment—an option that Nancy Pelosi has pointedly refused to rule out—every other government diktat becomes small potatoes by contrast. In fact, it becomes necessary. If uninsured Americans must buy coverage, why shouldn't other Americans be taxed to subsidize them? Why shouldn't the insurance industry be required to sell them coverage? Why shouldn't government set insurance prices to ensure affordability? Why shouldn't doctors and hospitals be asked to charge only "reasonable" rates—or offer only government-sanctioned treatments? Nothing about ObamaCare fundamentally changes so long as the individual mandate remains intact....
Read the whole thing here.
In an effort to rebut the idea that allowing law-abiding Americans to carry handguns in public helps prevent crime, the Violence Policy Center has begun compiling a list of homicides committed by people with carry permits. "Concealed handgun permit holders killed eight law enforcement officers and 77 private citizens (including 10 shooters who killed themselves after an attack) during the period May 2007 through October 2009," it says, based on news reports. "Contrary to the false promises of the gun lobby," says VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann, "the simple and deadly fact is that state concealed handgun systems are arming cop-killers, mass shooters, and other murderers."
Sugarmann says VPC may be missing some killers who had carry permits because it is relying on press accounts that do not necessarily note that detail. But even if the total number of homicides by permit holders is twice the number tallied by VPC, the rate is remarkably low. Thirty-nine states have "shall issue" permit policies, meaning they allow anyone who meets a set of objective criteria (such as a clean record and completion of firearms training) to carry a gun. Not all of them report the number of permits they issue, but Florida alone has more than 1.5 million permit holders, so there are several million nationwide. Seventy-five homicides (leaving out the suicides that VPC includes) over a period of more than two years in a population that size does not seem like a lot. Let's say there are a total of 5 million permit holders in the U.S. (a conservative estimate), and let's say the actual number of homicides is 150, or twice the VPC's count. That's roughly 75 a year, or 0.00002 homicide per permit holder. If you divide the total number of gun homicides in 2006 (12,800) by the entire adult population of the U.S., you get 0.00006, which suggests that permit holders commit homicide at a rate far below average (not terribly surprising, since people with criminal records can't get carry permits).
The other major problem with the VPC's list is that it includes crimes where having a permit to carry a handgun did not make a difference, such as Michael McLendon's shooting spree in Alabama last March. McLendon used rifles to kill 10 people, not a handgun, let alone one for which he had a carry permit. Even when mass murderers use handguns, the notion that they would not dare take them out in public without a carry permit is risible. So it's incorrect to say, as Sugarmann does, that "concealed handgun systems are arming cop-killers, mass shooters, and other murderers." All a permit does is make it possible to legally carry a handgun in public; when that ability does not matter—whether because the crime does not involve a handgun, does not occur in public, or is committed by someone who leaves home intent on murder—it hardly makes sense to blame the permit. The VPC list also includes an on-duty shooting by a security guard, a murder committed in the killer's home, and a murder by strangulation. If VPC's aim is to show that allowing people to carry handguns in public is a bad policy because it creates new hazards, such examples (unlike, say, a public argument involving a permit holder that ends in a deadly shooting) are irrelevant.
These days, writes David Harsanyi, where you fall on the crucial issue of Sarah Palin tells the rest of us all we need to know about your character. You're either A) a scum-sucking, terror-loving elitist or B) a radical, tea bag-loving simpleton. Yet believe it or not, Harsanyi notes, one can admire Palin's charisma and roots, appreciate her dissent on the policy experiments brainy folks in Washington are cooking up, and, at the same time, believe she has no business running for president in 2012.View this article
We must have respect for the law. We must! An undercover cop enters a bridal shop run by City Councilwoman Judy Wilkinson in West Point, Georgia, and nabs her in the act of serving gratis mimosas to her customers, in violation of both city and state law. She is cuffed and taken away in front of her customers, and ultimately gets away with a mere 30-days probation. (The cops also confiscated 16 bottles of the contraband champagne, current whereabouts unknown.)
Crimestoppers textbook: The law-abiding might not know of this controlled substance, "mimosas," often linked to violence, inappropriate toasting, and the street custom of "brunch." It is a mixture of champagne--frequently the cheapest variety available, to pump up the pushers profits--tainted with orange juice, often called "OJ" on the street. (This is the juice of a fruit that might be growing, unbeknownst to you, in your own back yard; check a horticulture guide for how to recognize it.) Parents, please listen to your children and keep a keen ear for this street slang that often signals trouble--"OJ" and "the bubbly" are both danger signs--such as the intent to go into business selling bridal accoutrements. Remember: Wilkinson was only stopped because of a tip from a concerned citizen, a concerned citizen just like you.
Hat tip on this story to PublicCEO.
The Boston teacher's union is blocking an incentive bonus for exceptional teachers sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Exxon Mobil foundations unless the bonuses are distributed equally among all teachers, good, bad, and average.
Last July I wrote about Massachusetts' latest cunning plan to stop failing schools: come up with a new word for failure.
(Thanks to Chris Berez for the link.)
Ezra Klein is reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has seen the CBO scores for the Senate's health care bill, and is "very pleased." Of course he is: It's doubtful that we'd be getting a score today if he weren't; according to one of Klein's recent posts, the reason we didn't see the score last Friday, as originally expected, is that the CBO's numbers came back to Reid, but weren't what was hoped. As a result, the bill, according to Klein, was "tweaked and trimmed until CBO [gave] Reid the answer he's looking for." Indeed, this is often how the scoring process works: Legislators work closely with CBO to push and pull at various elements of the bill until the CBO's math produces the desired result. So given that Reid knows exactly what it will be in advance (he sees preliminary numbers), can choose to release the score or resubmit again, and has been working with the CBO to make sure the numbers are to his liking, it's hardly surprising to see that, on a high profile bill like this, Reid is happy with the result.
A group of Afghans wants to make Buzkashi an Olympic sport, reports USA Today:
To understand how ambitious -- even crazy -- this is, consider the game. Buzkashi, which means "goat grabbing," is a violent sport with virtually no rules. Players, called chapandaz, gallop at breakneck speed over a dusty field, fighting over a dead animal without a head....
Rashid knows the game needs to be standardized to export the sport, played principally in Afghanistan and some Central Asian countries. Previous efforts to impose consistent rules have gone nowhere.
The game has no rounds or time limits. Galloping horses regularly spill off the field, sending terrified spectators running for safety. Some games are played with 12-man teams; others are scored individually with hundreds of horses careening around the field.
"It's very violent," says Maqsud, who also has seven buzkashi horses. "Animal rights activists wouldn't like it."
A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, Mark Adams, said he was not aware of any overtures from buzkashi officials. He said there might be concerns that the sport is not widely known and has no governing body that regulates it.
Of course, some people have tried to regulate it:
the Taliban imposed a rule that prevented the use of a carcass, allowing only the skins of calves or goats stuffed with straw. The Taliban considered it sinful to kill an animal without using its meat. Buzkashi enthusiasts, such as Rashid, still speak bitterly of that era.
Elsewhere in Reason: The British authorities' attempts to suppress mob football.
Dana Milbank plays gotcha with GOP senators on the filibuster. Surprise! Their feelings on the parliamentary maneuver are largely dependent on who's in power. He starts with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who's leading the filibuster against U.S. District Judge David Hamilton, Obama's first appellate court nominee.
For much of this decade, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, now the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, led the fight against Democratic filibusters of George W. Bush's judicial nominees. He decried Democrats' "unprecedented, obstructive tactics." To have Bush nominees "opposed on a partisan filibuster, it is really wrong," he added. He demanded they get "an up-and-down vote." He praised Republican leaders because they "opposed judicial filibusters" and have "been consistent on this issue even when it was not to their political benefit to do so."
So now a Democratic president is in the White House and he has nominated his first appellate judicial nominee, U.S. District Judge David Hamilton. And what did Sessions do? He went to the floor and led a filibuster.
"I opposed filibusters before," the Alabaman said with his trademark twang. But in this case, he went on, "I don't agree with his judicial philosophy. Therefore, I believe this side cannot acquiesce into a philosophy that says that Democratic presidents can get their judges confirmed with 50 votes."
And the others fall into line...
There was, for example, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Back in 2005, he demanded "a simple up-or-down vote" for nominees and urged the Democrats to "move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent." He declared that Democrats wanted to "take away the power to nominate from the president and grant it to a minority of 41 senators."
On Tuesday, McConnell voted to sustain the filibuster.
There was also Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), who in 2005 gave his considered opinion that "neither filibusters nor supermajority requirements have any place in the confirmation process."
On Tuesday, Brownback voted in favor of filibusters.
And there was Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who warned four years ago that "if the filibuster becomes an institutional response where 40 senators driven by special interest groups declare war on nominees in the future, the consequence will be that the judiciary will be destroyed over time."
On Tuesday, Graham voted to institutionalize the filibuster.
Not all Republicans senators were inconsistent. Just the vast majority of them. For not even attempting to explain away their hacktasticness, the GOPers get a 9.5 out of 10 on the completely arbitrary Hackery Index.
Last week, HackWatch took aim at lefty Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson for his own flip on the use of the filibuster.
Prior editions of HackWatch here.
The U.S. health care "system" is a mess. Yet, the elements of market competition that still manage to survive have had the salubrious effect of driving medical innovation and improving patient health outcomes. A new study by the free market Cato Institute, "Bending the Productivity Curve: Why America Leads the World in Medical Innovation" reports:
... none of the most influential international comparisons have examined the contributions of various countries to the many advances that have improved the productivity of medicine over time....
In three of the four general categories of innovation examined in this paper — basic science, diagnostics, and therapeutics — the United States has contributed more than any other country, and in some cases, more than all other countries combined. In the last category, business models, we lack the data to say whether the United States has been more or less innovative than other nations; innovation in this area appears weak across nations.
In general, Americans tend to receive more new treatments and pay more for them — a fact that is usually regarded as a fault of the American system. That interpretation, if not entirely wrong, is at least incomplete. Rapid adoption and extensive use of new treatments and technologies create an incentive to develop those techniques in the first place. When the United States subsidizes medical innovation, the whole world benefits. That is a virtue of the American system that is not reflected in comparative life expectancy and mortality statistics.
Policymakers should consider the impact of reform proposals on innovation. For example, proposals that increase spending on diagnostics and therapeutics could encourage such innovation. Expanding price controls, government health care programs, and health insurance regulation, on the other hand, could hinder America's ability to innovate.
As I have pointed out some prominent analysts actually favor putting a stop to medical innovation. For example, I noted in my article, "Dreams of Stagnation" that bioethicist Daniel Callahan argues that...
... even the Europeans, Callahan sadly notes, have been contaminated by "the quest for perfect health." His nostalgia is palpable. "If we had exactly and only the same range of technologies as were available twenty or thirty years ago, there would be no problem in equitably allocating resources," he writes. "We could readily afford that level of medicine and health care." (It would be even cheaper, of course, if we returned to using rattles and beads as remedies.) Callahan says political philosopher Daniel Sarewitz is "not far off the mark when he writes: `Political and cultural institutions might find their goals better served by responding to [their] problems as if scientific and technological progress had come to an end and the only recourse left to humanity was to depend upon itself.' "
Callahan reiterated his arguments for European-style cost controls on medical innovation in his new book, Taming the Beloved Beast: How Medical Technology Costs Are Destroying Our Health Care System:
"They use—among other tools—price controls, negotiated physician fees, hospital budgets with limits on expenditures, and stringent policies on the adoption and diffusion of new technologies." [In other words, stifle innovation.]
"Cutting the use of technology will seem wrong—even immoral—to many," Callahan admits.
Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff observed:
"[I]f all countries squeezed profits in the health sector the way Europe and Canada do, there would be much less global innovation in medical technology. Today, the whole world benefits freely from advances in health technology that are driven largely by the allure of the profitable U.S. market. If the United States joins other nations in having more socialized medicine, the current pace of technology improvements might well grind to a halt."
In my column, "2005 Medical Care Forever," I suggested this thought experiment:
...what if the United States had nationalized its health care system in 1960? That would be the moral equivalent of freezing (or at least drastically slowing) medical innovation at 1960 levels. The private sector and governments would not now be spending so much more money on health care. There might well have been no organ transplants, no MRIs, no laparoscopic surgery, no cholesterol lowering drugs, hepatitis C vaccine, no in vitro fertilization, no HIV treatments and so forth. Even Canadians and Britons would not be satisfied with receiving the same quality of medical care that they got 45 years ago....
As Rogoff suggests, the nationalized health care systems extolled by progressives have been living off the innovations developed by the "only country without a universal health care system." I wonder how Americans would vote if they were asked if they would be happy freezing medical care at 2005 levels forever?
Go here to download the new Cato Institute study.
As noted yesterday, you generous, glorious sons and daughters of bitches came through like the troops on Normandy by letting us reach our goal of 500 new supporters long before our beg-a-thon's planned end this Friday.
So thank you. And since we're going till Friday, help us to fill the flame of liberty up there in the right-hand-corner. All donations are tax-deductible and all go to good causes, such as cranking out more videos with Drew Carey, PJ O'Rourke, John Mackey, and John Stossel.
And our latest release, "Your Flight Has Been Delayed--and It's Washington's Fault," which diagnoses and offers a proven fix to annoying air-traffic hassles. Check it out below.
And come back tomorrow at 1pm ET for an all-out live web chat with Matt Welch and me talking about whatever you want to bring up.
As the holiday travel rush approaches, air travelers grounded by delays should take a moment to think about why they're stuck in airports or on the tarmac. There's a good chance Washington is to blame.
"The air traffic control system in the United States is technologically obsolete," says Robert W. Poole, Jr., director of transportation studies at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason.tv. "This model is basically the same model that we have used since the beginning of air travel."
The technology the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses to navigate $200 million jets is less advanced than the GPS technology drivers use to navigate $20,000 cars.
Poole says the system could safely handle more planes if the FAA used modern technology that would provide real-time information about where planes are. But the funding process, overseen by pork-hungry members of Congress, often thwarts technology upgrades.
The only way to get the politics out of our air traffic system is to take the system away from the politicians. Why not let a private corporation manage the skies?
That may sound like a far-out, free-market idea, but Canada doesn't think so.
Our neighbors to the north often take pride in their lavish government programs, yet they allow a private corporation called Nav Canada to manage their air-traffic control system. Canada's approach, often called commercialization, has some surprising supporters in the U.S., including Al Gore, who pushed for commercialization when he was Bill Clinton's vice president.
"Your Flight Has Been Delayed" is written and produced by Ted Balaker. Director of Photography: Alex Manning; Field Producers: Paul Detrick and Hawk Jensen. The host is Nick Gillespie.
Approximately 7.28 minutes. Go here for embed code and downloadable versions.
To subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel, go here.
- Obama strikes out in China, gets no major concessions.
- USA Today reports retired military officers earning big money while simultaneously working for defense contractors and as consultants to the Pentagon.
- Obama acknowledges for first time that Gitmo won't be closed by January.
- Housing starts hit six month low in October.
- No seconds on pumpkin pie.
The House version of the health care bill requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display calorie counts on their menus. Although supporters claim such mandates have the power to make people thinner and prevent obesity-related disease, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says New York City’s experience suggests they have little or no impact, possibly because customers who are interested in nutritional information can already obtain it.View this article
Jacob Sullum noted below the possible end game in Los Angeles' long struggle to regulate medical pot to its satisfaction--and its D.A.'s petulant insistance that he doesn't care if the City Council says over the counter sales of medical pot can be legal, he's prosecutin' away.
I was at the joint council committee meeting yesterday, and wrote a bit on what happened, with both quotes and links from local media and some of my own observations, at my California news and politics blog "City of Angles." Tomorrow, the whole council may actually approve a new ordinance; stay tuned.
The Constitution Project today released a study in which "a bipartisan coalition of former government officials, scholars, practitioners, and other experts serving on the Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee have proposed reforms to federal laws prohibiting material support for terrorism that are needed to ensure constitutional liberties."
As the press release notes, "The recommendations come at an especially critical time, as yesterday the Humanitarian Law Project filed its opening brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, challenging the application of federal material support laws to punish pure speech that seeks to further lawful, non-violent ends."
Highlights from the press release summary of the paper, which:
calls for narrowing the scope of conduct prohibited by the material support statute, so that pure speech furthering lawful ends would not be considered criminal conduct. As the statement notes:
Our government should have the tools needed to apprehend and punish not just terrorist leaders, but also those who work to facilitate and enable acts of terrorism. But in providing the legal authority to prohibit and punish such conduct, it is essential that the law respect constitutional freedoms.
The report also calls for reforms to protect the due process rights of organizations in the United States that are designated as “terrorist organizations” to challenge these executive branch decisions in court.
The full report on reforming material support laws from the Constitution Project.
The amazing Scotusblog sums up what's at stake in the ongoing Supreme Court Humanitarian Law Project cases in which material support is a material issue. To quote:
The six groups and individuals involved in the cases “seek to speak to, for, and in coordination with” two organizations that are on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. They are the Kurdistan Workers’; Party and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Those two groups, the brief said, “engage in a wide range of lawful, nonviolent activity,” and the groups and individuals in the case “seek to further only such activity.”
Thus, the brief urged the Justices to rule that the ban on “material support” be limited, at most, to “financial or other intangib le support to terrorist organizations,” and to “advocating or teahing criminal or violent activity.” What these six organizations and two individual do, and wnat to resume doing, they argued, is “pure political speech” that includes “teaching and advocating the use of intgernational law and other nonviolent means to reduce conflict, advance human rights, and promote peace.”
Words or phrases written into the Patriot Act — “training,” “expert advice or assistance,” “service,” or “personnel” — are so vague in their reach, the brief said, that the government treats them as making it a crime “to submit an amicus brief in federal court, to petition Congress or the United Nations for legal reform, or even to tpseak to the media, for the benefit of a designated organization, as well as to teach such an organization human rights advocacy or English.” It added: “The government has made clear that it considers plaintiffs’ intended actvitieis criminally proscribed by the challenged statutory terms.”
The full brief from the Humanitarian Law Project.
Lots of past Reason articles regarding the Patriot Act's material support provisions.
A few months old in magazine terms, and 21 years old in historical terms, but veritably ripped screaming from today's headlines: I found this today in the June issue of Harper's, and then found it reproduced online via the "Relentless Liberal."
It's a "May 10, 1988, letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to all Party members" that seems so perfectly designed to make a polemical point about the U.S.'s current situation in Afghanistan that one might guess it's a hoax.
But not, as far as I know. I quote from it:
we did not even have a correct assessment of the unique geographical features of that hard-to-enter country. This was reflected in the operations of our troops against small, highly mobile units, where very little could be accomplished with the help of modern military technology.
In addition, we completely disregarded the most important national and historical factors, above all the fact that the appearance of armed foreigners in Afghanistan has always been met with arms in the hands of the population. This is how it was in the past, and this is how it happened when our troops entered Afghanistan, even though they came there with honest and noble goals.
Babrak Karmal became head of the Afghan government at the time. His first steps in that capacity gave us grounds to hope that he would be able to solve the problems facing his country. Nothing new emerged, however, in his policies that could have changed for the better the attitude of a significant portion of the Afghan population toward the new regime. Moreover, the intensity of the internal Afghan conflict continued to grow, and our military presence was associated with forceful imposition of customs alien to the national characteristics and feelings of the Afghan people....
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan continued, and our troops were getting engaged in extensive combat actions. Finding any way out became more and more difficult as time passed. Combat action is combat action. Our losses in dead and wounded—and the Central Committee believes it has no right to hide this—were growing heavier and heavier....
The Afghan losses, naturally, were much heavier than ours, including the losses among the civilian population.
One should not disregard the economic factor either....The war in Afghanistan has cost us 5 billion rubles a year.
To be sure: Past guarantees are no performance of future results, those who condemn history are ignorant enough to repeat it, you can only trust a Communist to be a Communist, and this time bringing Afghan rebel guerrillas to heel just might work if only Obama doesn't go wobbly. But...well, I guess we'll see.
Reason readers learned a few weeks ago about then-President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Tim Geithner's role in crafting a full-payment deal for big banks that had credit-default swaps with the failed AIG insurance company. As Radley Balko noted earlier, Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, has now issued a harshly critical report on Geithner's handling of the AIG bailout.
Barofsky's report [pdf] details how the bailout vehicle "Maiden Lane III" was created, and why Geithner quickly decided to pay 100 cents on the dollar to AIG counterparties -- including Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and others. (Go to page 23 for the full list.) The deal ended up costing taxpayers at least $13 billion.
The slightly good news for Geithner is that the SIGTARP report somewhat mitigates earlier claims by former AIG employees that the decision to pay the banks in full was a high-handed action by the New York Fed president. The decision to concede to the banks' demand for full payment originated with unnamed other officials at the Fed. "Mr. Geithner concurred," the report reads, "and it was decided that FRBNY would cease efforts to negotiate haircuts and pay the counterparties the market value of the CDOs."
Barofsky repeatedly refers to the panic Treasury and Fed officials were feeling about a "systemic" collapse in the financial markets, but he never endorses their view:
Federal Reserve and Treasury officials believed that AIG's failure posed considerable risk...
[O]fficials believed that an AIG bankruptcy could ultimately have a greater systemic impact than Lehman's bankruptcy one day before...
[O]fficials believed that AIG's failure posed considerable risk to the entire financial system...
Even more striking, Barofsky casts major doubt on Geithner's claim that his efforts were not designed to keep big banks happy:
Geithner and the BRBNY General Counsel told SIGTARP that the financial condition of the counterparties was not a relevant factor in the decision to create Maiden Lane III and pay counterparties effectively at par.
This is an absurd statement: If the financial condition of AIG's counterparties was not a relevant factor, where was the systemic risk coming from? Were AIG losses going to leapfrog Goldman and land right on First Bank of Podunk? Barofsky initially lets Geithner get away with this lie, but later he repeats the claim and undercuts it with a directness that is rare in official documents like this one:
Then-FRBNY President Geithner and FRBNY's general counsel deny that this was a relevant consideration for the AIG transactions. Irrespective of their stated intent, however, there is no question that the effect of FRBNY's decisions -- indeed, the very design of the federal assistance to AIG -- was that tens of billions of dollars of Government money was funneled inexorably and directly to AIG's counterparties.
The SIGTARP report also spells out how the AIG bailout was set up in a way that guaranteed the program would fail to protect taxpayers:
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York was confronted with a number of factors that it believed limited its ability to negotiate reductions in payments effectively, including a perceived lack of leverage over the counterparties because the threat of an AIG bankruptcy had already been removed by the FRBNY’s prior assistance to AIG.
FRBNY did not develop a contingency plan; when private financing fell through, FRBNY was left with little time to decide whether to rescue AIG and, if so, on what terms... Not preparing an alternative to private financing, however, left FRBNY with little opportunity to fashion appropriate terms for the support, and believing it had no time to do otherwise, it essentially adopted the term sheet that had been the subject of the aborted private financing discussions... In other words, the decision to acquire a controlling interest in one of the world's most complex and most troubled corporations was done with almost no independent consideration of the terms of the transaction and the impact that those terms might have on the future of AIG.
And the punchline:
FRBNY officials state that they believe they will recoup the loan they made to Maiden Lane III over time...
Back when Geithner's deal for the banks first came to light, the blogger Tom Maguire said there was nothing scandalous in the decision to honor AIG's contracts in full:
The lesson is, if a government that values its credibility and hopes to avoid a panic promises to protect creditors, it pretty much has to do just that. Quel surprise. The same logic - a deal is a deal and contracts count - led to the government paying out on the controversial AIG bonuses. It is easy enough not to like that outcome, but having a government that could tear up contracts at random would probably be worse.
I agree with most of this statement (except that surprise is feminine), but that's why the Fed and the Treasury should never have gotten involved in an area (insurance) that was outside their purview, to prevent a bankruptcy that would have solved all the problems Maiden Lane III made worse. Had AIG been allowed to fail, the damage would not have been sustained by this "system" we keep hearing about. It would have been limited to the willing signatories of a business deal. Barofsky's thorough dismantling of Geithner's logic, and his silence on the matter of how much reality there was to the Paulson-Bernanke-Geithner hysterics, just point up what a swindle the AIG bailout really was.
Tim Geithner needs to be fired. He needs to be fired in 2008, and he needs to be fired even more in 2009. Any fair reading of the SIGTARP report leads to the conclusion that he lacks the competence, the honesty and the moral character to run the Treasury of the United States. Unfortunately it's hard to fire a man for things he did before you hired him. But lucky for us, Geithner is providing new examples every day.
Holey Macaroley, you went and did it, you damn dirty bastards! You came through in spades and donated to our webathon/blegathon/begathon in record numbers with record speed so that we hit our initial goal of 500 new donors to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that makes Reason mag, Reason.com, and Reason.tv possible.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Now fill up the goddamned torch in the upper righthand corner with fire (fire! fire!). We, meaning you, me, Matt Welch, and all the rest are modern-day Prometheuses (Promethei?) stealing power and fire from the gods.
Realize this: We are in the fight of our lives. After nearly a decade of horrible rule by a small-gov't Republican who spent money like a drunken sailor, we now have a president and Congress that is hell-bent on spending us all into bankruptcy and stupidity. Even paying for stuff in nonexistent Congressional districts, for god's sake.
In all of its iterations, Reason stands for smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation, and MORE FREEDOM. You should be allowed to eat what you want, marry whom you want, smoke what you want. Say what you want. We shouldn't be paying Citigroup or GM or Hamid Karzai bazillions of dollars from your purse to screw us all with rotten service, bad cars, and laws that legalize the rape of women. We should be doing what it takes to allow Americans of all backgrounds to live here, work here, and thrive here.
Our arguments are sound and they're convincing. Give us the resources and we'll carry that torch, that goddamned torch that is barely full with fire but will be blazing bright come Friday, through every stinking hellhole of a congressional district or what-have-you across America. We'll tell folks how they can move forward rather than fall behind. We're bringing the message of "Free Minds and Free Markets" and, you know what? In the 21st century, two decades after the collapse of communism and the top-down-knows-it-all-mentality, it's a pretty easy sell.
So give now, and give again. It's tax deductible. It's effective. It's cool. Depending on how much you give, you might get a bumper sticker, or a book, or a mag subscription, or more. We are like the thriftiest organization known to mankind. It's all up here on the screen! So give now, and give again. And here's a video or two or three worth watching:
Speaking of evolving positions on medical marijuana, it looks like the DEA has stopped telling the public "the American Medical Association recommends that marijuana remain a Schedule I controlled substance," a legal category that signifies a high potential for abuse, a lack of medical utility, and a lack of safety even under medical supervision. That statement was still on the DEA's website (under the heading "Exposing the Myth of Smoked Medical Marijuana: The Facts") as of late this afternoon, despite last week's AMA resolution recommending that "the Schedule I status of marijuana be reviewed with the goal of facilitating clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods." But the AMA citation is now gone, possibly due to an emailing campaign organized by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
The AMA-endorsed statement on medical marijuana is here (PDF).
Yesterday two Los Angeles City Council committees rejected City Attorney Carmen Trutanich's position that state law does not allow patient collectives to sell medical marijuana. The Los Angeles Times reports that the council's planning and public safety committees approved an ordinance that "authorizes cash contributions as long as they comply with state law, which prohibits collectives from making a profit." That is consistent with the ordinances of jurisdictions such as West Hollywood and with guidelines issued last year by California Attorney General Jerry Brown. By contrast, Trutanich and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley maintain that patients organized as collectives are allowed to grow marijuana for their own medical use but may not sell it, an interpretation of the law that would put all dispensaries out of business. In a column last month, I speculated about how this disagreement might interact with the Obama administration's policy of leaving patients and providers alone if they comply with state law.
Update: As Gene Berkman notes in the comments, Cooley today declared that he is determined to prosecute medical marijuana sellers no matter what ordinance the L.A. City Council passes. "What the City Council is doing is beyond meaningless and irrelevant," he said. Councilman Ed Reyes replied: "We'll let the courts decide. We are trying our very best to work with a system that is very vague at this moment."
[Thanks to Cato's Jonathan Blanks for the tip.]
I'll have more details after I've read the opinion. But this afternoon, the Mississippi Court of Appeals granted Cory Maye a new trial. This is great news.
My original article on Maye's case here.
And here's the Reason.tv documentary on Maye's story:
This weekend, the Longevity Summit convened in Manhattan Beach, California. A group of researchers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries met for three days with the goal of developing a scientific and business strategy to make extreme human life extension a real possibility within a couple of decades. As inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil told the conferees: “Something I am personally interested in is not just designer babies, but designer baby boomers.” Reason Science Correspondent (and baby boomer) Ronald Bailey reports from the summit.View this article
Back in May, I wrote this post about the murders of two British Army sappers, Mark Quinsey, 23, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, and fretted that dissident Republicans were getting bolder in their attacks on the police, army, and those it considered traitors to the Feinian cause. Last month, The Christian Science Monitor wondered if IRA splinter groups could "bring back the Troubles" (answer: unlikely), a British MP who investigated the 1998 massacre in Omagh told reporters that such mass violence "could be repeated" by dissidents, and judges in Northern Ireland, says the (London) Times, "have had to make new security arrangements for themselves and their families at levels not seen since the height of the Provisional IRA campaign."
Now a surprising story out of Belfast today: Marian Price, convicted in 1973 of the Old Bailey bombing and former sister-in-law of craggy-faced Crying Game actor Stephen Rea, was arrested in connection with the Quinsey and Azimkar murders. So, one convicted Bailey bomber became a government minister, one married a famous Hollywood actor, and one kept it real:
The 55-year-old leading republican was detained by officers in West Belfast, according to republican sources....Price and her sister Dolours, the former wife of the actor Stephen Rea, were among those convicted of the 1973 bombing outside the Old Bailey in which one person was killed and almost 200 others were injured.
They became well known after going on a 200-day hunger strike. Price, an outspoken opponent of Sinn Féin's peace strategy, is a leading member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, considered to be the Real IRA’s political wing. Fourteen people have been arrested in connection with the murders of Sappers Patrick Azimkar, 21, from London, and Mark Quinsey, 23, from Birmingham, at the military base.
Two men have been charged – Colin Duffy, 41, a prominent republican from Co Armagh, and Brian Shivers, 44, from Magherafelt, Co Londonderry. Gunmen opened fire on the soldiers as they collected food from a pizza delivery man outside the base in March.
Within 48 hours of the killings the Continuity IRA shot dead a police officer, Stephen Carroll, in Craigavon, Co Armagh. A 17-year-old has been charged in connection with that murder.
At the substantial risk of violating the First Rule of Grylliade, did some of you newer readers realize that there exists a ... how to call it? ... shadow site run by Hit & Run readers and commenters (and even those who have left us, in anger more than sadness)? Grylliade has many virtues and vices, but among its chief on both counts is that the site maintains what every political magazine weblog should have, but usually doesn't: An unofficial official drinking game.
Any time someone resorts to "For a magazine called Reason..." take a drink.
Drink whenever someone says the magazine has gone downhill since Postrel left.
When someone fails to appreciate the difference between minarchism and anarchism - drink
Anytime someone accuses libertarians of being hypocrites for driving on public roads, take a drink.
Drink every time somebody mentions Rush; drink twice if they explicitly ask if there are any other libertarian bands, I say.
At Reason, we take our fan fiction almost as seriously as our alcohol, and I daresay we take more active delight than just about any magazine you can name in the fact that America (and the world) is experiencing an unprecedented boom in bottom-up (not to mention bottoms-up) culture. And though we're not technically supposed to mention Grylliade here, I was pretty disappointed to finish so poorly in the Least Favorite Reason Staffer/Regular Contributor contest....
Look over to the top right of this website, and hit the refresh bar: We are on the verge of breaking through the 500 barrier. Be the one to save Lobster Girl! Take us to a half-thousand donors! Donate to Reason right the hell now, if for no other reason than to help out with Nick Gillespie's medication!
Unmoved by the sweet lullaby of text and hyperlinks? Let the Rev. Al Sharpton testify:
We may be having fun here, but this is deadly serious stuff. We are the finger in the dam, the port in the storm, the Spaniard in the works. All around us are Republicans and Democrats who, not content with running the country (into the ground) are trying to chase us off our little reservation. They will fail, and one great reason why they will fail is because of support from freedom-lurvin' people like youse.
The Wall Street Journal has a fun, inspiring piece about technological tinkering:
Occupying a space somewhere between shop class and the computer lab, the new tinkerers are making everything from devices that Twitter how much beer is left in a keg to robots that assist doctors. The experimentation is even creating companies. With innovation a prime factor in driving economic growth, and corporate research and development spending tepid, the marriage of brains and brawn offers one hopeful glimmer.
Engineering schools across the country report students are showing an enthusiasm for hands-on work that hasn't been seen in years. Workshops for people to share tools and ideas -- called "hackerspaces" -- are popping up all over the country; there are 124 hackerspaces in the U.S., according to a member-run group that keeps track, up from a handful at the start of last year. SparkFun Electronics Inc., which sells electronic parts to tinkerers, expects sales of about $10 million this year, up from $6 million in 2008. "Make" magazine, with articles on building items such as solar hot tubs and autopilots for robots, has grown from 22,000 subscribers in 2005 to more than 100,000 now. Its annual "Maker Faire" in San Mateo, Calif., attracted 75,000 people this year.
"We've had this merging of DIY [do it yourself] with technology," says Bre Pettis, co-founder of NYC Resistor, one of the first hackerspaces, in Brooklyn. "I'm calling it Industrial Revolution 2."
First reaction: I'm really glad he didn't call it Industrial Revolution 2.0.
Second reaction: The paper prefers to stress the influence of the economic crisis, but if there's a surge in mechanical hacking right now, it's at least partly an outgrowth of the hacking subculture that gave us tools like the original Napster. The tinkering described in the Journal story doesn't just occupy a space between shop class and the computer lab; it represents the two rooms influencing each other.
Elsewhere in Reason: Katherine Mangu-Ward talked to the founder of Make for a Reason story earlier this year. Brian Doherty profiled the DIY energy movement last year. And back in 2000, I looked at a world where "we've let the tinkers back in."
Mike Flynn, one-time government affairs director for Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason.tv, is the editor of Big Government, the latest site from Andrew Breitbart's new media empire.
Big Government focuses on the dirty side of politics, which means they've got enough material to last them for centuries. The site made a huge splash be releasing (as recently as yesterday) a series of guerilla videos in which members of ACORN, the community organization that got tons of public money, apparently helped a fake pimp and prostitute figure out how to set up operations. Big Government followed that up with transcripts from a controversial teleconference between White House folks and artists that led to the resignation of the National Endowmen of the Arts director of communications.
In October, Michael C. Moynihan sat down with Flynn to talk about the site's early success, long-range game plan, and how new media is changing politics in ways that we've only just started to understand.
Approximately 8.20 minutes. Shot by Dan Hayes and Meredith Bragg; edited by Dan Hayes.
Every month University of Alabama at Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report the latest global temperature trends from satellite data. Below are the newest data updated through October, 2009.
Latest Global Temperatures
The data for the chart can be found here. The global average temperatures are increasing at +0.13 degrees Celsius per decade. The northern hemisphere is warming at +0.19 degrees per decade and the southern hemisphere is warming at +0.06 degrees per decade. Interestingly, the satellites show that the north polar region is warming at +0.40 degrees per decade and the south polar region is cooling at -0.06 degrees per decade.
From our December issue, Contributing Editor Veronique de Rugy explains that inflation isn't just a monetary phenomenon, it's a political one as well.View this article
One of the problems for health care reformers is that they've had to both promise that their legislation will bring about both a world of difference and not much change. Things will be much better under reform, we're told, but if you like what you've got now, nothing will change.
The fact is, for many, maybe most, people, not much will change: For those on employer plans, premiums will probably rise faster over time than they would have, and depending on what sort of exchange and public plan options get put in place, some number of people might find their employers dropping coverage—leaving employees to buy coverage through the exchange.
But of course, Democrats have had to sell health care reform as the solution to all our health care problems. Certainly, many less politically informed voters are likely to think of it that way. And as a result, I suspect lots of people aren't going to be too happy if reform passes and then things don't change much. The fact is, even if reform passes, many people who don't like their health care situation aren't going to see much improvement. And, as Politico explains, that could have some consequences:
After all the controversy over the public option, people might think that everyone can sign up right away if Congress passes health reform.
Or that insurance premiums will go down.
Or that they’ll be able to shop around for insurance if they don’t like what their company offers.
When it comes to the public option, for instance, only about 1 in 10 Americans will be eligible, mainly people who don’t get insurance through work. Only about 6 million are expected to enroll. The plan doesn’t even start until 2013.
And most people who get insurance on the job would have to stick with it. No shopping in the new “insurance exchanges” for them.
President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress stand to reap the political rewards if they can pull off health reform, by achieving near-universal coverage, toughening regulations on private insurers and transforming the way health care is delivered.
But Democrats have glossed over nagging details of just how limited reform’s reach would be for some Americans. And if voters figure it out, experts warn there could be a political backlash.
On a note that's scary in a different way, the piece quotes Harvard health policy professor Robert Blendon as saying that even if the bill passes, the health care issue is never going to go away:
If the bill becomes law, Blendon said, the campaign for maintaining support for health care reform would only just begin. “It is not really over in people’s mind,” he said.
This is one of the side-effects of health care reform I suspect people think about less: Reform won't just mess up our health care system, it will infect our political system; the more our politics and our health care are tied together, the more our political debates will become indistinguishable from our health care debates. They'll become permanently intertwined, going on and on, forever and ever, cable news without end.
Yesterday the petitioners in the landmark Second Amendment case McDonald v. Chicago, which challenges the Windy City’s draconian handgun ban, filed their opening brief [PDF] with the Supreme Court. At issue is whether the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments, and whether it does so via the 14th Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause or its Due Process Clause. As I’ve previously discussed, this case matters not just for Second Amendment rights, but for economic liberty as well, since the 14th Amendment—and its Privileges or Immunities Clause in particular—was written and ratified to enshrine the free labor philosophy of the anti-slavery movement. But first the Court must overturn its disastrous decision in The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873), which, in the words of dissenting Justice Stephen Field, reduced the Privileges or Immunities Clause to a “vain and idle enactment.”
To that end, the petitioners have devoted the vast majority of their brief to carefully explaining why “the right to keep and bear arms is among the privileges or immunities of American citizenship that states may not abridge.” The next step in the case is Chicago’s brief, which is due to the Court on December 16, followed by the petitioner's reply brief on January 15. Oral arguments are then expected in February. Hopefully this is another one for the history books.
- Obama talks human rights in China.
- Abortion measure in House health care bill unlikely to affect many women.
- Women still prohibited from wearing pants in Paris.
- Inspector general says Fed, Geithner botched bailout negotiations with AIG.
- New York Gov. David Paterson blasts Obama plan to try terror suspects in New York City.
Have you heard? There's loud rock music in the streets and Reason, yes Reason!, is ruling both the coasts and all the land in between. As we pull away from George W. Bushitler's AmeriKKKa and slide into Barack Obama's East German facsimile of a place of enforced smiles and chronic double-digit inflation and foreign-policy indecisiveness, there's only one place to turn for videos and online and print journalism with a sense of fun, wit, and steely determination to make the land of the free and the home of the brave, well, free and brave again.
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Come back on Thursday at 1PM ET for a live chat in which Matt Welch and your humble narrator answer all your questions about leather coats and lobster girls, the Federal Reserve and grokking Michael St. Valentine, what it's like to work with Jacob Sullum, Radley Balko, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and even Tiny Tim Cavanaugh (who is actually powered by a collective of gerbils), how Reason pulls it all off while being underfunded and overworked, and so much more. And don't even get Welch started on his days in Budapest or Prague or jumping tramp steamers with Jack London and Daniel Defoe and Tommy Lasorda or me on my stretch in the open-air prison that was Teen Machine and ghosting an advice column for Alyssa Milano while unloading trucks on the 3AM to 7AM shift for UPS (ah, our salad days, when we were green and bitter, like dandelion greens!) But anything goes on Thursday—assuming we're rocking the 500 strong for part of a new America, one where Free Minds and Free Markets have some more money in our pockets going jingle, jingle, jing.
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From our December issue, Penn Bullock explains that while Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is typically portrayed as a follower of John Maynard Keynes, Bernanke's real inspiration is Milton Friedman.View this article
What does it look like when a party with solid majorities can barely pass a health care bill with broad, fanatical support through even one house of Congress? I got a glimpse this weekend, as Democratic members of the House of Representatives brought the H.R. 3962 victory lap to town hall meetings in their home districts. Broadly speaking supporters were disheartened and opponents were as charged up as ever.
"We have to do as much as we can to convince the American public that [the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which passed the House by a vote of 220 to 215 early this month] will be something that is good for them," Rep. Xavier Becerra told a small crowd of supporters in Los Angeles Saturday afternoon. "The health care reform act that passed in the House is a pretty good stab at trying to do right by the American people. It could have been better... But it's a step forward. It's far more than what we have. It will get us closer to the point where we can say that the American people will finally reach the 21st Century and have the kind of health care that not only they deserve, they've earned."
The group of about 50 supporters outside a downtown hospital rose to Becerra's lukewarm enthusiasm. Judging by the questioners, Becerra himself was to the right of the crowd. Much of the rally focused on assuaging supporters' objections to the so-called Stupak Amendment, which would prevent public health insurance from covering abortions.
The crowd also seemed unhappy about the final bill's lack of coverage for illegal immigrants. Panelists and audience members repeated the formula that failing to provide universal coverage of illegal immigrants costs taxpayers more, in the form of emergency care for far-gone cases that could have been treated more cheaply with preventive or earlier-stage care. (OT: Is there any evidence to support this formula? Emergency rooms are expensive to operate, but it still seems logical that a policy encouraging a group of people to stay away from hospitals and doctors until their health deteriorates would reduce the group's overall medical cost by reducing both range of care and life expectancy.)
"We have to understand, living here in Los Angeles, that the rest of the world and the rest of the country isn't like L.A.," Becerra said several times.
I was expecting the crowd around a leading Democratic congressman, with the goal of Welltopia in sight, to be pretty fired up. But the mood of the event was more wistful than anything. (And not General Zod-type no-more-worlds-to-conquer wistfulness, but a real sense of regret.)
The atmosphere was very different yesterday as Rep. Brad Sherman presided over a town hall circus at a Van Nuys high school. The auditorium-packing crowd was energized, but not all the energy was in favor of AHCAA. There seemed to be a 50-50 split between H.R. 3962 supporters and opponents, along with a heaping helping of birthers, truthers and resurgent ChemTrailers. Was there heckling? Were there boos? Did people get shoved? Yes, yes, and yes.
But Sherman showed why you can't spell Brad without R-A-D. Whether you're desperately seeking a copy of President Obama's long-form birth certificate or you're just a building demolition expert who wants the truth about the collapse of Building 7, the San Fernando Valley stalwart can engage you at a level that puts other politicians to shame.
The gentleman seen at left, a ChemTrailer doing some freelance birth certificate work, awakened the dormant tiger in Sherman. When he expounded on weather manipulation in China, Russia and Venezuela, Sherman responded with a surprisingly learned critique of snowmaking, algae-seeding and other frontier sciences.
But when this same questioner mentioned in passing that the president we know as Hawaii-born Barack Obama is actually some other person (I think it was Barry Rapaport from Flushing, but the audio isn't clear), Sherman launched into a full-steam stemwinder about children born to parents serving overseas. It was a great moment in post-meaning politics, with the crowd cheering and Sherman extemporizing about our service people and the audacity of those who would deny citizenship to our service people.
I have no idea what children born on military bases or in the Panama Canal zone have to do with the president's birth certificate (excuse me, his certificate of live birth). But by the time Sherman wrapped up I was ready to punch a birther in the mouth for the way they're disrespecting our men and women in uniform. Even more impressive was that Sherman pulled off the soliloquy with his ChemTrail interlocutor glaring uncomfortably at his left flank.
Did any of this bode well for the future of health care reform? I'd say it didn't. Like Becerra, Sherman did his best to get people pumped up for AHCAA, but his argument frequently came down to a case that we shouldn't worry because the bill passed out of the House was less radical than advertised, and that Franklin Roosevelt had done more to change the United States than President Obama has so far tried to do.
This being the land of the nuts and the fruits, it was hard to tell the Obamabots from the Wingnuts. The group seen here, for example, contained folks from both groups.
As was the case with Becerra, Sherman's statements were more moderate than his supporters seemed to want. It's hard to get people excited about Public Option Jr. when they're really in the mood for another Work Progress Administration and a revamped Civilian Conservation Corps.
Sherman and Becerra both made statements about how getting scorched by town hall opponents is part of what makes American democracy the first or second best democracy in the NAFTA region, and it was pleasing to see such engaged citizens getting their two cents in. But if this is the best victory lap the Democrats can muster, after a late-Saturday-night vote and with a generally compliant media, it makes you wonder what a loss would have looked like.
The fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago was one of the most exhilarating events of the 20th Century. No one could fail to be moved by the joy of people who tore down a loathed monument to tyranny. But as Contributing Editor Cathy Young writes, there are widespread reports that for many east Germans today, liberation has turned to disillusionment.View this article
Congress recognizes no limits on its power, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano. It doesn't care about the Constitution, it doesn't care about your inalienable rights. If this health care bill becomes law, Napolitano argues, life as you have known it, freedom as you have exercised it, and privacy as you have enjoyed it will cease to be.View this article
Here's a stimulus success story: In Arizona's 9th Congressional District, 30 jobs have been saved or created with just $761,420 in federal stimulus spending. At least that's what the website set up by the Obama Administration to track the $787 billion stimulus says.
There's one problem, though: There is no 9th Congressional District in Arizona; the state has only eight Congressional Districts.
ABC's reporter Jonathan Karl drily notes that Recovery.gov was created to foster greater accountability and transparency in stimulus spending.
Hat tip: Amanda Carpenter of the Wash Times.
From our December issue, Editor in Chief Matt Welch investigates the charges of racism directed at the Tea Party protests.View this article
Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke to the Economic Club of NY this morning. In the speech and the followup questions, Bernanke staked more of his credibility on the green shoots recovery that is rocking the USA; offered some fun unemployment breakdowns; and reiterated the call for a resolution authority over large institutions -- not limited to financial institutions -- that will ensure taxpayers, rather than willing signatories of money-losing business deals, suffer private sector losses.
I watched a live feed which doesn't seem to have been archived yet, so it's worth noting that in their public statements both Bernanke (the most courageous American since Audie Murphy) and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner project an air of haggard, panic-plagued exhaustion that contrasts with the guarded optimism of their words. Today's performance was no different. Some highlights:
Recover, dammit, recover:
My own view is that the recent pickup reflects more than purely temporary factors and that continued growth next year is likely...
I expect moderate economic growth to continue next year. Final demand shows signs of strengthening, supported by the broad improvement in financial conditions. Additionally, the beneficial influence of the inventory cycle on production should continue for somewhat longer. Housing faces important problems, including continuing high foreclosure rates, but residential investment should become a small positive for growth next year rather than a significant drag, as has been the case for the past several years. Prospects for nonresidential construction are poor, however, given weak fundamentals and tight financing conditions.
When will somebody think of the adult males?
The best we can say about the labor market right now is that it is getting worse more slowly....
Different groups of workers have been affected differently. For example, the unemployment rate for men between the ages of 25 and 54 has risen from less than 4 percent in late 2007 to 10.3 percent in October--nearly double the rise in unemployment among adult women. This discrepancy likely reflects the high concentration of job losses in manufacturing, construction, and financial services, industries in which men make up the majority of workers. From the perspective of America's economic future, the effect of the recession on young workers is particularly worrisome: The unemployment rate among people between the ages of 16 and 24 has risen to 19 percent--and among African American youths, it is now about 30 percent.
Productivity is defined as output per hour of work. Thus, essentially by definition, a jobless recovery--in which output is growing but hours of work are not--must be a period of productivity growth. In the jobless recoveries that followed the 1990-91 and 2001 recessions, productivity growth was quite strong. It may seem paradoxical that productivity growth--which in the longer term is the most important source of increases in real wages and living standards--can have adverse consequences for employment in the short term. But, when the demand for goods and services is growing slowly, that may be the case.
Bank lending and Cavanaugh's Parable of the Leaking Corpse:
I have discussed two of the principal factors that may constrain the pace of the recovery, namely, restrictive bank lending and the weak job market. Banks' reluctance to lend will limit the ability of some businesses to expand and hire. I expect this situation to normalize gradually, as improving economic conditions strengthen bank balance sheets and reduce uncertainty; the fallout for banks from commercial real estate could slow that progress, however. Jobs are likely to remain scarce for some time, keeping households cautious about spending.
We need to make sure that too big to fail is a relic of the past, that we don't do that anymore. To do that we need Better regulations, we need to strengthen institutions, we need to make sure all systemically significant firms are strong... Top of the priority list: An alternative to bankruptcy or bailout. Another way to dispose of firms, so that in the future a failing firm will be allowed to fail.
Unsurprisingly, those many hundreds of you who have generously joined the call to DONATE TO REASON RIGHT THE HELL NOW have taken full advantage of the donation form's call to leave "comments, suggestions, or questions." For instance, several of you sent in some variations on the following:
Please add Google Checkout or at least Paypal to the payment options. Like many people, I hate to have my credit card number floating all around the internet, no matter what the alleged security measures are. Too many examples of hacked credit card number lists.
From your mouth to our ears–we now have Paypal as an option, thanks.
Let's get to some other comments, but first I'm pretty sure we can't play this original Al Sharpton video enough:
More from the suggestions box:
Put more orange on the site!
Bring back reason.tv talk shows, please!
Create a simple comments rating system. People with accounts can click a check mark, or minus sign, or smiley, whatever; marking each comment as "helpful," or "useless" or "funny" or "abusive." (or just use the 5 star system). Then we could sort the comments by rating and read the good ones first.
Please stop the threaded comments. Please.
Keep the Lobster Girl. Next time expand into Lobster Girls and I will donate more. Love you videos. Keep up the great work as we need you more than ever. Cheers.
Not sure I know (or want to know) what "expand into Lobster Girls" means, but I would note that we are now just 130 or so donations short from the goal of saving LG from a certain death. Click the clicky to keep crustaceans kissed!
Some of your political musings:
Keep up the great work I'm an Obamaniac and my wife is a dittohead and the only thing we agree on is that Reason rocks!
I lean more towards the Heritage style of conservatism, but I have my libertarian side, too. I love the Hit and Run blog and felt like I should donate to help the cause. Thanks for all your wonderfulness.
Seem to be really soft on Obama/Pelosi. I guess you want to be "reasonable".
Up the punks!
Adnotatiunculae bilicis delenda est!
Flattery will get you everywhere...:
I love Reason! Best source of news out there.
I am endlessly grateful for the work the Reason Foundation, reason magazine, and reason.com do. Thank you.
Please keep up the good work. I reference Reason very often when I argue with overly educated economists who should know better.
You guys are the best at what you do. I can't imagine my day without H&R. Keep up the good work!
Keep up the great work. This is a big year in the war of ideas that lead to policy. I fear we are headed down a slick as snot slope towards economic oblivion through the destruction of economic liberty and the implementation of perverse incentives against work. Your work has never been more important
I've had a subscription forever (15 yrs maybe?) and attended your event in Vegas a couple of years ago...Keep up the amazing work!
You had me at "sneering prick devoid of any quantifiable emotional response to the pain of others."
...but so will razzing:
Live it up on my dime, welfare queens.
And last but not least, comments that make us humble to be able to provide you with a little Free Mindy, Free Markety goodness as part of your balanced breakfast:
Please bring me no books, send me no swag, render me no recognition. [This from someone donating $2,500.]
*Sigh* even though I'm a poor grad student, the thought of losing the lobster kissing girl (damn you Matt Welch) at hit and run has caused me to donate. Keep up the good work Hit and Run, I can honestly say I get about 90 percent of my news from you and I fucking love it.
Good luck guys, I wish I could give more . . . I read your site all the time so I better give something. Take care.
Wish I could give more. Thanks for doing what you do.
Nick, Matt, et. al., Thanks very much for what you do on a daily basis. I've been a fan of yours since high school and have been an on-off subscriber for sometime. please do put this small money to good use fo liberty.
Thank you for your stalwart commitment to reason.
Twenty-five bucks gets you a "Free Minds and Free Markets" bumper sticker. A hundred buys you a bumper sticker, a subscription, and either Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism or Peter Bagge's Everybody is Stupid Except For Me! Two-fifty gets you even more Reason stuff, and after $1,000 you can probably start dictating your own terms. Remember: We now have PayPal, and you can easily e-mail the donation form to your friends, enenimes, and frenemies.
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Earlier this month, Wayne County, Michigan Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny threw out the murder conviction of Dwayne Provience, who had been convicted for a 2000 drug-related murder in downtown Detroit. One of Provience's attorneys was Nick Cheolas, a third-year law student at the University of Michigan who took an interest in the school's Innocence Clinic after watching his own family's five-year battle against local police and prosecutors.
Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko explains how the paths of two very different families crossed in a Detroit courtroom that morning to cheer Provience's release from prison.View this article
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Jon Meacham says Sarah Palin is "an heir to the Goldwater tradition," which is sort of like saying Michael Bay is an heir to the Jean-Luc Godard tradition: Sure, they're both movie directors, and both are known for their signature brands of impressionistic editing, but unless you're trying to make the inverse point that Godard was a brilliant and incredibly influential innovator and Bay is a hack (admittedly an often highly entertaining one), for anyone who actually knows anything at all about movies, the comparison's basically useless.
Same here. Meacham stakes his analogy on the idea that "Goldwater was seen in real time as an extremist, as the embodiment of unflinching conservative dogma"—a politician so fringe that "even Nixon wanted to distance himself from the nominee." That's right: Nixon, a president so devoted to purist conservatism that he imposed price and wage controls, and so off-the-map extreme in his right-wing ideology that liberal icon Paul Krugman recently discovered a newfound appreciation for the guy.
What Meacham totally misses is that Goldwater's politics were based in a broadly principled opposition to expanding the authority of the federal government. Yes, he relied in part on an Western-flavored, individualistic attitude to help popularize his ideas, but stubborn principle was the key to his appeal, his political goals, and his lasting influence.
Palin's politics and appeal, on the other hand, are based almost exclusively on attitude. Instead of principle or policy, she sells a carefully crafted resentment shtick. As anyone who watched her campaign interviews last year saw firsthand, when it comes to discussing policy details, she's one of the least competent, least reliable major political figures in recent memory. Voters don't trust her on the issues, and even Palin's most ardent defenders are now saying that, if she's to have any chance of rehabilitating her flagging public image, she needs to "strengthen her policy credentials."
As Palin's book hits this week, we'll get a glimpse of whether Palin's particular appeal has any staying power. But whether or not it does, it won't have anything to do with Barry Goldwater.
Read more from Reason on Barry Goldwater here.
Observe! A map of all the news reports of miscounted, inflated, or otherwise non-jobs "created or saved" by the stimulus. Unlike the government jobs numbers, the full story behind each of the tacks in the map is available in a user-friendly spreadsheet with links put together by the Washington Examiner's Mark Hemingway and David Freddoso::
The map, which will be updated as new revelations appear, currently reflects an exaggeration by the Obama administration of about 75,000 jobs, out of the 640,000 jobs supposedly "created or saved."
The map reflects reports from The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, the Sacramento Bee, The New York Times, USA Today, the Las Vegas Sun, the Detroit Free Press, the New York Post, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It remains a work in progress because relatively few newspapers have scrutinized stimulus spending so far.
Here's what you were reading last week at Hit & Run:
Media Matters Slams Heritage for Being Soft on Crime, by Radley Balko (11/9)
Get Us to 500 Donors, Or That's the Last You'll See of Lobster Girl, by Matt Welch (11/12)
Does Washington Post Columnist Ruth Marcus Not Know What a Tax Is? by Ronald Bailey (11/11)
Wow, Dude, it's Really Not About You, by Matt Welch (11/9)
The Richard Hofstadter Drinking Game, by Matt Welch (11/9)
In the wake of last week’s big news that the Pfizer Corporation is pulling out of New London, Connecticut just four years after that municipality received Supreme Court approval to seize private property on Pfizer’s behalf, the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case in Brooklyn is receiving lots of well-deserved attention. In a superb article from Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Nicole Gelinas outlines New York’s shameful behavior:
So to push the Atlantic Yards project through the courts, New York state isn't arguing that it needs to take Mr. [Daniel] Goldstein's property for economic development. Instead, it has declared that Mr. Goldstein's neighborhood is "blighted." This allows the state to condemn property on the theory that clearing unsanitary and unsafe slums constitutes a public benefit.
In fact, the Prospect Heights neighborhood that Mr. Goldstein and his wife have made their home is hardly a slum. Prospect Heights was thriving before Atlantic Yards construction began. It's a hip neighborhood that's a short hop on the subway from Manhattan....
To discover blight in all this, Albany hired consultants. Their 2006 report pointed to below-grade railyards for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which make up less than half the condemned area, and noted weeds growing and graffiti on some properties. All of this could be remedied without demolishing a large swath of urban landscape if the state compelled the MTA to sell the development rights above its underground tracks at a market rate.
Mainly, however, the report pointed to "underutilization" of the land, concluding that the area wasn't being used to the maximum economic benefit allowed by law. But that means the Atlantic Yards is really an economic-development project—and that the politicians along with Mr. Ratner want to manage Brooklyn's economy rather than let competitive forces continue to improve the neighborhood.
It’s also worth noting that New York didn’t even start talking about blight until two years after the project was first announced. By that point, Ratner had already acquired many of the properties in the neighborhood (thanks to the state’s threat of eminent domain) and then left them empty, thus creating much of the unsightly neglect visible today.
Here’s another depressing fact: The MTA quietly struck a deal with Ratner for that below-grade railyard (the Vanderbilt Yards) as early as February 2005—without first opening the property up for competitive bidding. This prompted a public outcry, so the MTA offered prospective buyers a mere 42 days to put up their own bids. This was hardly "competitive," however, since Ratner’s plans had been in the works for years and everybody else had to scramble to meet the deadline. Still, the Extell firm successfully submitted a $150 million offer for the property, which has been appraised at over $200 million. But then Ratner bid just $50 million and won, with that figure later negotiated to a lump-sum payment of $100 million. Finally, the MTA sweetened the deal even further this past June by allowing Ratner to pay just $20 million up front, with the remaining $80 million due over the next 22 years. Now that’s a bailout!
As Genilas notes, New York’s highest court will rule any day now on whether this despicable land grab will stand. Here’s what the court should do. Here’s lead plaintiff Daniel Goldstein on why private developers like Ratner have no right to his home. And here’s the trailer for Battle of Brooklyn, a forthcoming documentary on the case (help the filmmakers out via this fundraiser):